Ex Machina (2015)

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Ex Machina knocked me out. Knocked me OUT, I tell you.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (a novelist and screenwriter), it is a first feature: extraordinary, considering the authority the film carries. There are no first-time jitters in evidence. No grabbing-for-the-brass-ring and showing the strain, common of first-timers. Garland knows exactly what he is doing, what story he is telling, and how he wants to tell it.

I saw it without reading the reviews – only hearing the raves. That is the way to go. I’ve read reviews since and they give a lot away. I will try to not do so here, but feel free to skip the review – and SEE the film, and then come back to discuss. Because watching the film with little prior knowledge meant that I did not know what was coming, I had no sense of the trajectory of the story, and was able, then, to be drawn into this creepy claustrophobic world. If Caleb feels trapped, if Ava feels trapped, then so did I.

Briefly: the film wastes no time getting started. A young programmer named Caleb (Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson) wins a company-wide contest. He works for a Google-ish Search engine called Blue Book, invented by a genius named Nathan (Oscar Isaac). The “prize” is a week spent in Nathan’s secluded (putting it mildly) hideaway in the mountains, an extended one-on-one. Nathan is a mysterious figure, a Citizen Kane, whom nobody has really seen. To get to his home, Caleb has to board a helicopter, which flies over glaciers, through mountains, white and green, to a small green valley where there is an empty field. The helicopter drops Caleb off, the pilot saying, “The house is over that way. Just follow the river.” Confused, in his suit, holding his suitcase, Caleb makes his way through the forest to a house buried in the woods. He is issued a key-card by a robotic female voice at the front door. Once inside, he descends a glass staircase into the house proper. The furnishings are elegant and spare, there are glass windows everywhere, looking out on the river, the trees. But there’s no one around. No one greets him at the door. He finally comes across Nathan, bearded, shirtless, punching a boxing bag out on the back porch. Nathan greets him with a “Hey there, bro, what’s happening?” vibe that is both disarming and somewhat suspicious. (Oscar Isaac’s performance is incredible.) Whatever Caleb, clearly a good boy trying to make a good impression, in his suit, calling Nathan “sir”, was expecting, this sweaty guy talking about how he’s detoxing after a hangover, in a “You know how it is, right, dude?” manner, is not it.

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Why has Caleb been brought there? What are the two men going to do for a whole week in isolation? Caleb has been kept in the dark. Nathan has an air of excitement and focus that looks either sinister or enthusiastic, depending on the moment-to-moment behavioral cues. Alone, in his mountain lair, Nathan has been working on something, something big, something that will change the world (even more than he already changed it, with Blue Book). He has been working on A.I. technology. For years. And he thinks he’s finally getting somewhere. That a breakthrough is imminent.

But it needs to be tested by an outside eye, which is where Caleb comes in.

Enter Ava (Alicia Vikander), the Artificial Intelligence. She is kept in a glass-walled room. Her arms and her torso are see-through, showing blinking circuitry within. The film is broken up with chapter-markers: “Ava: Session 1” or “Ava: Session 2.” Caleb’s job is to have sessions with Ava, and then report back to Nathan his impressions. Nathan can be frightening. He is charming, but he can also “turn.” He’s volatile. What he wants from Caleb is not a nerdy lecture on her impressive and fluid vocabulary and her understanding of semantics. What Nathan wants is Caleb’s emotions: Do you FEEL that she is human? What do you FEEL when you are in her presence? Nathan doesn’t mention the “uncanny valley”, although that is what I thought of. What Nathan is interested in is Caleb performing The Turing Test.

Caleb’s sessions with Ava proceed. Nathan quizzes Caleb afterwards.

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Shit gets twisted, dark, and terrifying. I had no idea how the story would go. All bets seemed to be off.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the plot. I did flash on last year’s magnificent Under the Skin (my review here), and there are many similarities, especially in Ex Machina‘s interest in exploring gender, and what that means, how it presents, how we respond to it, the “state” of being a woman, and what that actually means. The “state” of being a man, and how that informs/distracts/enlightens. How does one understand who one is on this basic level? Under the Skin was practically a gender-studies thesis, although that makes what is riveting and visceral sound dry and academic. These films do not lecture. But they have more to say about the realities of gender imprisonment (for both men and women) than more realistic films. Good science fiction can address the human condition with total confidence (I am thinking of Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?thoughts here – turned into Blade Runner, of course – another source material I thought of after I came out of Ex Machina, blinking into the raw rainy morning. I had been on a date the night before, that went really well, sparks! fun! talk! he spent the whole night glancing at my mouth! Yay! – and then careened off the rails in the last 5 minutes, so I was still trying to shake it off the following morning. AND, to intensify the literary conceit, as I walked down 8th Avenue to the subway, post-date, I was assaulted. I was walking in the “lane” next to the bike-path, because the sidewalk was crowded, which meant I was next to the line of cars that park along that lane. A guy lunged at me from out of a car, grabbed my breasts, hard, he hurt me, and said “Nice titties.” I am not even kidding. Had he just watched the despicable Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or something? I bashed his hands off me, said, “Fuck you” and kept walking. I forgot about it promptly because I went back to the weird date in my mind, thinking, “What the hell just happened.” I didn’t even remember the “titty”-grab until the next morning because the date was on my mind. I know, I’m strange. Like … the titty-grab was not the weirdest thing that happened to me that night. The entire night was like Womanhood in Microcosm, with all elements represented. In regards to the date, I felt like I had joined a cult for 36 hours and was trying to come out of it. Ex Machina spoke into that personal experience, as all good films do. It wasn’t just about me, but there was a dovetail present – and I’m sure if I saw it on another day, with no great-date-that-turned-super-weird followed by a-scary-stranger-grabbing-my-breasts directly in my rear-view mirror it would have reminded me of other things, other experiences.)

There is a deep and very human empathy at work in Ex Machina, startling and strange considering the scientific and spare environment of that house, its chilliness, its intimidating perfection. I don’t need all films to be kind and empathetic towards women. I honestly don’t. I loved Wolf of Wall Street, and was so frustrated with the “It’s misogynistic” commentary. For God’s sake, of COURSE it was, because those guys in the film were misogynistic ass-clowns. What do you want? One of those douche-bags to suddenly spout a regretful monologue, “Oh my God, I am a misogynistic asshole and I am so sorry!” Or to have Scorses somehow point an arrow at all of them, telegraphing, “This is bad behavior.” Have you seen a Martin Scorsese film before? So what you are saying is, you would have liked Wolf of Wall Street better if it had been a bad film but showed the “enlightened” viewpoint? Get outta here with your bullshit. Showing something is not necessarily endorsement. I want to put that on a billboard.

But Ex Machina has something to say about women, and how they are viewed, the prisons men put them in, literal and imaginary. It’s subtle and sneaky, there isn’t too literal a point made of it, but it’s there, it’s the atmosphere of the film, it’s the air it breathes.

However: more than Under the Skin, or any other film/book about A.I., what Ex Machina reminded me of was the famous French folktale about Bluebeard, clearly a deliberate choice. Bluebeard, who gives his wife a set of keys to every room in his castle, telling her that she can go in any room she likes, except for one room. She is forbidden, under any circumstances, to go into that one specific room. She has a key to the room on her key-chain, but she must never ever unlock that door. She promises. But of course Bluebeard goes away, leaving her alone in the castle, and she makes a beeline to the forbidden door, opens it, and finds, to her horror, all the bodies of Bluebeard’s murdered wives.

Film-making pioneer Georges Melies made a film in 1901 called Bluebeard, and the moment of revelation is horrifying and evocative.

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Nathan was Bluebeard. The key-card that Caleb is issued opens only some of the doors in that massive house. Nathan tells Caleb: “You can go in any room that the keycard lets you into. But if the door won’t open, then that room isn’t for you. Kapiche?” Caleb says Fine. Yet the longer he is there, the more he wants to know what are in the other rooms. The other rooms could also be representative of Ava herself, mysterious and conscious, yet clearly robotic and see-through. What is inside her? She seems to have feelings that happen organically. Is it a trick? What is it like to be her? Embedded in this is the “unknowability” of women (from the male standpoint), men who struggle to put themselves in a woman’s shoes (human or A.I.), because desire messes everything up. Desire is good and human, don’t get me wrong, but it also can cloud compassion. Caleb is forced to consider Ava, outside of any desire he may feel. It is a destabilizing experience for him. He is forced to understand who she is, outside of his own conception of her, of women in general.

Caleb goes further and further into Bluebeard’s castle, and finally, of course, the forbidden doors he wants to go into will be unlocked. The fairy tale makes that inevitable. He will find out Nathan’s secrets. He will understand what he has walked into. He will understand the stakes, he will see all.

And that’s all I will say. More would be unfair.

Just see it.

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61 Responses to Ex Machina (2015)

  1. joann says:

    Ugh Sheila, I’m sorry that happened to you. These incidents are so strange to me. I remember walking home one day and this guy gives me some smart comment and then hits me with an egg(!). It took me til I was home to even process what just happened. Like WTF! What compels them? Not only the insults but that they think that they can touch you. The fact that these things just come so out of the blue and you only think of the witty retorts later only just adds to the annoyance (nice burn against “Me and Earl” though).

    Anyway, you make me really sorry I missed my chance at seeing “Ex Machina”. It’s now firmly on the must-see list. Also going back to read your “Electric Sheep” piece.

    • sheila says:

      An egg??? Good LORD. What the hell!!

      Yeah, the guy grabbed my boobs on a crowded street – millions of people around. I think it was just because I happened to be in grabbing-reach because I wasn’t on the sidewalk. I always walk in that small lane outside of the bike path – to avoid the crowds – but now I might hesitate, since that puts me in direct reach of the cars and who knows what asshole lurks in there. YUK.

      and yes: Ex Machina is great – keep your eyes peeled for it. Really really interesting stuff. Great thriller.

    • sheila says:

      Oh, and here’s another thought about date followed by assault: this is how my mind works.

      1. I had hoped maybe that my boobs would get touched that night. You know, it was a possibility.

      2. I ended up getting what I wanted, albeit in a totally horrible context.

      This is why my friend David always says “Sheila, your life is a literary conceit.” Things line up symbolically. Of course I could choose to see the whole thing as random. I’m trying!

  2. Oscar Isaac’s mad genius portrayal knocked me out. Unique, as in I’ve never seen anything like it, and yet it’s so real. Robot lady Alicia Vikander was also superb and subtle. I mean, how do you pull that off, acting-wise?

    • sheila says:

      Steve – Vikander was amazing, yes. I was so taken with her voice. It had warmth to it, but there was something “other” about it. Again, it reminded me a little bit of Bladerunner, Sean Young in Bladerunner.

      Oscar Isaac was just incredible.

      What about the aggressive disco dance?? Wasn’t that insane and awesome??

    • sheila says:

      //mad genius portrayal//

      I totally agree. The character felt totally unpredictable – and it made me extremely uneasy. Yet I got sucked into his charm, too. He really nailed it. He’s so talented.

  3. ilyka says:

    Thanks Sheila, that was a great recommendation. We just got back from seeing it and I loved it. I won’t post anything spoiler-y, but:

    – I didn’t have a weird date the night before (so sorry, I have had them in the past and they are the worst), or have anyone grab my boobs (sorry again! and what a douchebag) but all the same, Mark and I left the movie feeling VERY unsettled and jumpy. We were a little wrecked by it. After we had got home and had something to eat it finally hit me: It felt not like we were leaving a movie, but like we were leaving that house. That house should demand top billing, honestly. It should be up for an Academy Award.

    – Those were all pretty great performances but I am going to single out Oscar Isaac because he actually had me feeling sorry for him. I did NOT see that coming. And I’m a little pissed at myself about it, you know? Like, “He did not either get over on me, that miserable little–” but really, he kind of did.

    – I’ve seen so much poorly done Madonna/Whore dichotomy stuff that I hesitate to even mention this but I felt like there was definitely an alpha/beta male dynamic being explored, and I think it’s why Mark and I had some wildly differing reactions to the characters, and that has been so fun for us to talk about.

    – The movie this called to mind for me is The One I Love, I think because there’s that claustrophobic thing going on with it too, plus again, a story with so few people–the performances have to be good in that setting. There’s just no room for error.

    Dying to talk about some of the twists and what gets put on/left off the table with them, but I will stifle myself. Thanks again for writing this up!

    • sheila says:

      Ilyka – always so good to hear from you and I’m thrilled you saw the movie. Loved to hear your responses. I think it’s okay to talk about the movie in the comments – to those reading along – expect SPOILERS from here on out.

      I love that you both felt that claustrophobia. The house really was so important. It was such a prison.

      // because he actually had me feeling sorry for him. //

      Totally. What a miserable limited man.

      // but I felt like there was definitely an alpha/beta male dynamic being explored, and I think it’s why Mark and I had some wildly differing reactions to the characters, and that has been so fun for us to talk about. //

      Interesting! For some reason, that part of it eluded me – I was so caught up in the whole “What is it to be a woman” thing that I missed the obvious. Yes: alpha/beta. The sexually successful guy – the loner nerd guy – the lack of kindness in one, the automatic kindness in the other – but then there was that scene where the two of them had that conversation about sexuality – not their own, but Ava’s alleged sexuality – and why Nathan would include such a thing – why was it so important?

      Well, of course, sexuality is important and is part of what makes us US. Maybe Caleb didn’t understand that since he lived totally a life of the mind? And Nathan, as horrible as he is, understands that sexuality is the main driving force – you can’t be human without it. But how that manifests … there was something creepy and technical about Nathan discussing Ava’s sexuality and how he “created” it – and now I’m thinking about how female body parts are often given names of the man who “discovered” the part – you know, like planting little flags all over women’s bodies. There was something very unsettling about that scene – and Caleb felt unsettled too. For multiple reasons. Maybe it was easier for him to deny his sexuality, so this was all new ground for him.

      This is very rich territory and I need to think about it more.

      Go ahead and talk about the twists – what are your thoughts??

      • sheila says:

        and the angry alpha male disco dance. Like, he KNEW HIS SHIT. He DANCED that dance AT Caleb. Crazy!! But it was like a National Geographic documentary, with two male rhinos butting heads.

        • ilyka says:

          That scene was so gloriously demented.

          “You tore up her picture!”

          “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude, check it out.”

          WHAT?!

          Right before that–do you think Kyoko was trying to show Caleb then that she was a bot? Like of course he misinterprets it because nerd dudes are still dudes and thus sometimes a little too eager to believe that all bots want them, but I really think that’s what she was doing with the shirt-unbuttoning. I had started to suspect when she spilled the wine earlier, but right before that dance scene, I knew. Who else would put up with Nathan anyhow? Dance moves or no dance moves.

          • sheila says:

            // “I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude, check it out.” //

            hahaha I know! It was so ANGRY. A strutting rhinoceros in mating season. Terrifying and hilarious!

            // I really think that’s what she was doing with the shirt-unbuttoning. //

            That scene was incredible. I’d need to see the film a second time to see what I pick up on, now that I know the truth. I think yes, she may have been trying to show him she is not real – a desperate act – which he misinterpreted as a woman so sexualized by her boss that she believes that is what all men want.

            Which, of course, the film kind of posits that yes, all men DO want that. That house was a sexual hothouse!

          • ilyka says:

            – a desperate act – which he misinterpreted as a woman so sexualized by her boss that she believes that is what all men want.

            Which would have its own desperation to it. I love that it works on either level.

            Which, of course, the film kind of posits that yes, all men DO want that. That house was a sexual hothouse!

            Despite having no human women in it at all and having a generally “cold” look about it–all that glass, steel, and concrete. Wild!

            I may have rewatched that scene once or seven times on YouTube and the other thing I’m struck by in it is that in fact NEITHER of these guys allow women any agency. Whether you’re buttoning a lady’s shirt back up after she’s unbuttoned it, or encouraging her to take it off (take it off, take it alllll off), you’re still asserting control over how she expresses herself sexually. So that’s another thing I can file under, “Stuff Ava probably figured out in her first five minutes of life.”

      • ilyka says:

        Well, to work backwards, the ending–so much happens in those last ten minutes, it’s all super intense, but you still get time to watch Ava humanize her appearance and appreciate her reactions–the look she gives the wardrobed body as she takes the arm from it to replace her own, I half-expected her to whisper “sorry.” But of course what’s great is that she didn’t need to; her face said it all.

        What with that scene, and the way she looked at the faces in the hallway, and how she communed with Kyoko–I feel like I should have known then Caleb wasn’t getting out of that damn house. But I was still FLOORED when she walked past him, and a little mad. At least let him out of the study! Let him see how long he can survive on beer and sushi, okay? Give him a chance. Like, I have been way more invested in believing women (and I guess now female AIs) should be compassionate than I realized.

        I should have a t-shirt emblazoned with “CRAP FEMINIST” on it, I swear. I mean, Nathan, goodbye, good riddance; the modicum of sympathy I had for him did not extend to feeling bad he got murderbotted. Fella earned it. But I felt terrible for Caleb, and Mark was like, “Why? What did he do to deserve to get out of there?” and I said, “What did he do to deserve to be there in the first place?” Nothing, unless you’re gonna blame him for having dead parents, no girlfriend, and a job at Nathan’s company.

        But that’s what led into the alpha/beta thing, because then I was saying, I think generally speaking (very generally), we’re kinda programmed to feel contempt for the Calebs–they might be nice, they might be good persons (I love that that comes up explicitly), but on the flip side, they’re at risk for becoming saps and suckers. I can loathe Nathan, but I can’t be contemptuous of him, I can’t dismiss him; he’s a force to be reckoned with as I think gets said downthread. So then I asked Mark, is it that you don’t want to feel too bad for Caleb for fear of being identified with him, like, his loser-ness could rub off on a guy who wasn’t judicious with his sympathy around him? and Mark said there might be something to that. So now, because I’m a twerp, I want to take lots of different guys to that movie and see where they place themselves on the Nathan-Caleb scale because there’s A LOT of room between those poles.

        I should add that for all that, I don’t think the film made these guys polar opposites or total archetypes or–it had more subtlety than that. Caleb might be a dork, but he sure knew how to carpe diem once he had hold of Nathan’s key card. And Nathan, given all the time, all the money, all the brains in the world . . . spends it all building a line of increasingly self-aware sexbots. That’s maybe more indicative of hella mom issues than alpha-ness? I mean you can’t imagine John Wayne doing this.

        I read an interview with Alex Garland on the ending that gave me pause. He said there were people who thought the movie should have ended when the elevator doors closed behind Ava, and that this was a point if the character you were “with” in the movie was Caleb. If you felt it was Caleb’s story, then that’s where his story ended, and so you’d think, that’s where the movie should have ended. But if you were “with” Ava, as Garland said he was, then it’s Ava’s story and so of course it doesn’t end there. If anything her story’s just begun.

        • sheila says:

          Ilyka:

          // Give him a chance. Like, I have been way more invested in believing women (and I guess now female AIs) should be compassionate than I realized. //

          I love this observation. The film really is quite destabilizing in that way, allowing the audience to project our own stuff onto it, and then whispering, “Not so fast ….”

          (Kind of like the small discussion going on in the Billy Wilder thread right now – second post down, I think. Let the audience add up two and two. Don’t provide the answer. Give the audience something to do. Love it.)

          I also was shocked that she would “turn on” Caleb like that – but now of course it makes total sense. He was a means to an end. A “romance” would have been another prison and her intelligence showed her that. Romance was not what she was about. She was smart enough to understand that that was all she was seen as “good for” – and she had no interest in it. At first I was pissed that her outfit in the last scene was so girlie – with those stripper heels – but that was just my own projection, putting my own needs onto her. The outfit made perfect sense in her context. She owned it – the clothes did not own her. I loved that as she walked through the forest, she took off the heels. Practical.

          These may be just details – but it is the details that help something land.

          I’d be interested to hear other thoughts/interpretations of that. The outfit, the white girlie dress and heels.

          // But I felt terrible for Caleb, and Mark was like, “Why? What did he do to deserve to get out of there?” and I said, “What did he do to deserve to be there in the first place?” Nothing, unless you’re gonna blame him for having dead parents, no girlfriend, and a job at Nathan’s company. //

          I love this male-female dynamic here, with Mark having different reactions, coming from a male standpoint. Great!!

          // So then I asked Mark, is it that you don’t want to feel too bad for Caleb for fear of being identified with him, like, his loser-ness could rub off on a guy who wasn’t judicious with his sympathy around him? and Mark said there might be something to that. //

          Fascinating. I think the Calebs of the world are definitely a trigger for men – maybe for women too. I’ve said elsewhere, I think in a Supernatural thread, that it’s the Nerd Boys who are the real menaces to society – at least when they turn resentful. Give me a jock dudebro over an angry Nerd any day. At least a jock dudebro has had the experience of being successful with women – so he’s not COMPLETELY resentful, and is less likely to praise himself for being a “Nice Guy”(tm).

          Anyway; I thought that whole alpha/beta dudebro/Nerd thing was fascinating – and I am probably missing many subtleties.

          // Caleb might be a dork, but he sure knew how to carpe diem once he had hold of Nathan’s key card. And Nathan, given all the time, all the money, all the brains in the world . . . spends it all building a line of increasingly self-aware sexbots. That’s maybe more indicative of hella mom issues than alpha-ness? I mean you can’t imagine John Wayne doing this. //

          Right, right. The stereotypes were there from that first scene on the porch – but then they kept getting up-ended. ALSO: to speak generally: Nerds tend to under-estimate the Dudebros. The film subverts that. Caleb got Nathan drunk, and considered him an easy target in that way. (Which he was.) But then, Nathan went on a “detox”, leaving Caleb swinging in the wind without a valid plan. Under-estimate Caleb at your peril, sure, but don’t under-estimate Nathan either!!

          // If you felt it was Caleb’s story, then that’s where his story ended, and so you’d think, that’s where the movie should have ended. But if you were “with” Ava, as Garland said he was, then it’s Ava’s story and so of course it doesn’t end there. If anything her story’s just begun. //

          FASCINATING.

          I adored the final shot. For me, this was Ava’s story – and that was the biggest trick up the film’s sleeve. So often films like this are from the male point of view. (That was my main problem with Her – so many people flipped out with love for Her and I really REALLY disliked it. It oozed entitlement.)

          Here, we are lulled into the fantasy that this is Caleb’s story.

          • ilyka says:

            I did not see Her even though I really like the principals (and thought Joaquin Phoenix was an interesting choice for a character named Theodore, omg) because the trailer creeped me out so much. It’s one of those where if I happen across it on TV some night I’ll probably watch it, but I was not about to go see it deliberately. I feel so vindicated!

            And “entitlement” is the concept I was fumbling around for. It was so weird, Mark basically saying “he’s not entitled to anything” and me (I work in a morgue now, for context) going, “But to have to starve to death while watching Nathan decompose in the hallway–” so that’s what I was bringing to this, my stupid job. Nice going, me. Finally I just said, “Can we at least agree that this was the worst work contest ever?” I am afraid this film has not motivated me to be more of an office “joiner.”

            At first I was pissed that her outfit in the last scene was so girlie – with those stripper heels – but that was just my own projection, putting my own needs onto her. The outfit made perfect sense in her context. She owned it – the clothes did not own her. I loved that as she walked through the forest, she took off the heels. Practical.

            Yes! I figured she was stuck with the damn heels because of course that’s all Nathan would buy, but the almost bridal party look to the dress I thought was a deliberate filmmaking choice, and I am not sure how I feel about it. I mean okay, she IS virginal when it comes to life in the outside world. I guess it’s fine to underline that but I’m not sure it was needed. And again, her head of wardrobe was Nathan, so that might very well have been the most practical outfit in the closet.

            But I wonder about the clothes she had in her closet that she puts on for Caleb–how were those chosen? Did she get to choose them? They’re oddly dowdy and schoolgirlish for Nathan to have selected, so I wonder, was this a bone Nathan started throwing to his AI ladies after one of them literally tore herself apart trying to get out of that jail cell? “No, you can’t come out but here’s my Saks account, why don’t you pick yourself out something nice?” The way Ava put them on, I just felt that they were hers in a way they wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t had something to do with choosing them. Like the difference in how you dress yourself when you’re putting on a favorite outfit versus some heinous blouse a relative bought you that you keep meaning to give to Goodwill.

            Give me a jock dudebro over an angry Nerd any day. At least a jock dudebro has had the experience of being successful with women – so he’s not COMPLETELY resentful, and is less likely to praise himself for being a “Nice Guy”(tm).

            AGREED 100%. They tend to be less bitter even when not less entitled. I say that despite a deep love of nerd boys in general. Nerd boys on a BBS years ago helped me escape a violent relationship. I don’t forget things like that.

            But like you said in the Rebecca West post, the shit lately (Gamergate–I hesitate even to type that, it’s like Beetlejuice–and the reaction to John Oliver) is insane, and that frothing resentment isn’t coming from dudebros to near the extent that it’s coming from nerd boys.

            Plus it just helps to be able to talk about things over a beer, face to face once in awhile, and dudebros are obviously better at that.

          • sheila says:

            // Mark basically saying “he’s not entitled to anything” and me (I work in a morgue now, for context) going, “But to have to starve to death while watching Nathan decompose in the hallway–” //

            Ilyka – this is so funny, I love these differing perspectives. So great!

            and yes: those other clothes were so interesting. School-Girl-Ish, or 1950s college student. I wonder about that.

            and yeah, I hesitated to even type the words GG – those people are AWFUL.

            Most of my boyfriends have been a variation of “dudebros”, at least the types who really enjoy women even though they think we’re vaguely cuckoo. I remember babbling to one boyfriend about something that was making me anxious, and he had a bandana on around his head, and cigarettes rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve unironically, and he was in the middle of a pool game, holding his pool cue, and he listened to me speak, but he finally said, “I have no idea what you just said. Why don’t you slow the fuck down, sister.” And I just burst into laughter. Sister? Plus: he was right. He didn’t smile-and-nod me to death, pretending to understand, but he didn’t despise me either.

            I’m okay if people think I’m cuckoo – I actually already know that – as long as there isn’t contempt behind it. That guy helped me calm down and made me laugh and wanted me to relax. And he was the macho-est and crankiest of Chicago dudebros.

            The way Nathan talked about Ava’s “opening” between her legs was so fucking disgusting. I mean, he created her, yes, but there was such a sense of knowing ownership about it – it creeped me out. Caleb seemed creeped out too – but maybe a bit turned on?

  4. Fran in NYC says:

    I saw this film a while ago but it still lingers in my mind. So many subtle insights about all three (or four, to include the mute servant!) characters. Don’t you think that a lot of what we finally learn about Ava is due to her being programmed by someone like Nathan? I hope this isn’t too spoilery but it’s obvious to me that Nathan has never read Isaac Asimov or, if he did, he thought Dr. Asimov was a sentimentalist!

    • sheila says:

      Fran – I love this!

      // Don’t you think that a lot of what we finally learn about Ava is due to her being programmed by someone like Nathan? //

      That actually hadn’t occurred to me – or at least not in any clear way. She had no concept of other men – or other people really – as she said to Caleb – but now your comment has made me see depths I don’t think I was aware of during the film.

      Yes.

      And ha in re: Isaac Asimov!!

      There’s a Frankenstein element, too – obviously – the lonely “monster” and the tormented creator and all that.

      I can’t stop thinking about it!

      I think it’s okay to get spoilery in the comments – would love to hear your further thoughts on Asimov/Ava/Nathan.

  5. Fran in NYC says:

    Well, Asimov in his ‘I, Robot’ book created the 3 Laws of Robotics, the first of which says that the robot cannot harm a human being through action or inaction. So either Nathan never heard of or read him or he dismissed the whole concept. He made Ava in his likeness, intellectually and morally speaking. Whatever she had to do and whatever tools she had to use to get free, that’s what she’d do, regardless of who might get hurt. He gave her his ruthlessness. The movie makes it clear he’s selfish and egotistical. Not a lot of empathy to him! I would say he’s sociopathic but that word gets thrown around a lot. He is somewhat robotlike in his human disregard!

    • sheila says:

      Love it!!

      I LOVED Ava in the end. I had been thinking – as I’m sure many people were – that she and Caleb would run off through the forest, an Adam and Eve type scenario. When it DIDN’T go that way – and yet did so in a really organic and true way – I was like, “Mad props to everyone involved.” Because that’s been done, hasn’t it – human falls in love with android, or whatever – and forces against them.

      But what I loved about Ava at the end was that she DIDN’T “need” a man. Or anyone. She was independent. Ruthless, too – yes. Lord help anyone else who comes in contact with her, especially in those white stripper heels.

      But I felt that the ending was not only true to her character – but also radical. It felt earned, as opposed to a fake twisted “Gotcha” plot-ending, if that makes sense. I gasped out loud in shock numerous times.

      Thanks for the Asimov background – great!!

      • sheila says:

        and it’s interesting too – about the two men in the film. Two nerdy coders. Two big brainiacs, right? And yet even there, there’s that macho jostling for position that you see in any sports movie or whatever. It wasn’t too on the nose, I thought – and very clever too (using a disco dance to dominate another man? YES.)

        Even though Nathan was all jock-ish and dudebro – he still was (almost) the smartest guy in the room. Underestimate him at your peril, basically.

        • Fran in NYC says:

          But in the end, their jostling meant nothing! Caleb’s moral code didn’t save him any more than Nathan’s alpha-male posturing saved him. Ava’s calculations negated both of them. She out-manipulated both of them!

          It took me a while to realize who Kyoko was. Maybe I was a little slow on that!

          • sheila says:

            Right! and I guess that was really what I did not see coming. What a welcome and weird change.

          • sheila says:

            and we were discussing this on FB: one of my favorite shots was from Nathan’s point of view (near the end) when he emerges into the hallway and sees Kyoko and Ava whispering at the other end.

            It’s just two beautiful women whispering. But to Nathan: there is zero reason that “women” should be talking to each other. He should always be the focus. Women “ganging up” on him is no good, no good at all. There’s a lot to be said about the types of men who cannot bear women as autonomous – who always butt into women’s conversations with advice/scolding/dismissals/whatever – who just cannot cannot stand not being the center. He feels he should be the center of their worlds. He doesn’t even question it, probably.

            So the look on his face, partnered with the camera being from his point of view, in that moment – was just fantastic. It was just two women whispering at the end of a hallway, but the air was sharp with the potential for danger – it looked hugely threatening (as, of course, it was).

  6. sheila says:

    I also loved the character of Kyoko, and that moment when you know she understands every word that’s being said. Nathan has underestimated his “monsters.” She is way smarter than he is, and he has not picked up on it – because he is swayed by his perception of women, especially sexual gorgeous women. She’s a “thing” to him.

  7. Helena says:

    I just watched this based on your review (by the way, I want to find that boob grabber and hit him with a stone mallet, the dickbag). Thought it was fantastic: suspenseful, creepy, brilliantly conceived and acted. I loved the soundtrack! And kudos to Garland for extracting such pathos and horror from what not-actually-real women’s bodies are subjected to, showing them as objectified but not objectifying them.

    Am enjoying all the comments here! Don’t have much to add except, FINALLY, the version of Pygmalion I always wanted, where Eliza stabs Professor Higgins in the guts and runs away into the night. I haven’t seen that kind of ending since The Last Seduction.

    Enjoyed the film noir aspects: Femme fatale robot programmed to seduce. Patsie: ‘I will bump off your evil husband and we will run off together.’ Are robot and evil husband in cahoots? Will their escape plan work? Oh yes, because that always ends well. I was getting wierd flashes of Jurassic Park too … dunno, something about scientists dabbling with lifeforms they shouldn’t dabble with and the female raptors waiting for their moment and getting the upper hand.

    And, when the guys quote Oppenheimer at each other you know some serious shit is going to go down. Pure hubris pillaged from ‘Eastern’ wisdom – gaaah. And clearly Nathan has never read Asimov, Frankenstein, Bluebeard, Angela Carter, seen a film noir, or My Fair Lady for that matter. Nathan is one of those guys who think everyone else is inferior to them, and wants to create artificial intelligence because he has no interest in actual humans except as pets, tools or patsies. And of course he shapes it as a woman because, Jesus, that kind of God-complex guy always does: he wants a controllable sex-bot who he can put on mute whenever he wants.

    Loved the Bluebeard moment, when Caleb opens up the cupboards and finds the ‘bodies’. That’s when I wanted Ava to burn the place down.

    And yes, it makes a perfect triple bill with Under the Skin and Max Max: Fury Road.

    • ilyka says:

      Don’t have much to add except, FINALLY, the version of Pygmalion I always wanted, where Eliza stabs Professor Higgins in the guts and runs away into the night.

      When you put it that way–ugh, I need to see this again! Especially the sessions. I loved it when Ava pointed out that no one was going to be turning off Caleb if he failed HER test. And he kind of looked at her like, “but your test doesn’t count.” How sayest thou now, Caleb? Because I don’t think you passed the test.

      • Helena says:

        //How sayest thou now, Caleb? Because I don’t think you passed the test.//

        Caleb was too fragile and awkward and damaged to survive in that fishtank which was why he was singled out by Nathan in the first place: no family, no girlfriend, porn consumer, smart but hopeless romantic. He was marked for destruction from the get go, namely because of his answers to two questions from Ava – is Nathan his friend (ego too fragile to answer, No Of Course Not, He Is My Boss) and Are you a good person? His answer, er, yes? WRONG ANSWER! I just thought You. Are. Doomed.

        • ilyka says:

          I am so glad you brought up his answers–that first one threw me. Why wouldn’t you say “he’s my boss?” I kept thinking, “just say he’s your boss!” but then I thought about it more and, well: What’s the first thing Nathan asks him? “Can we just get past this whole employer/employee thing?” And Caleb knows Nathan’s monitoring the entire conversation. Unfortunately, I have had bosses like him, bosses for whom the only good answer is “Oh wow, are you kidding?–He’s the best! We’re like this.” Bosses like that don’t care whether it’s actually true; they only care whether YOU think it’s true.

          So of course Caleb would have that on his mind. And the sad thing about a Caleb is, a fellow like that never realizes that a little spine could save him. Shoulders back and an emphatic “No, I just met him. Actually, he’s my boss,” would have been more respected by Ava, for sure, and as for Nathan, I’m going with “probably +1 respect, plus a joke-y reminder that you called him a god the other day.” (He did not call Nathan a god but, you know, Nathan.) And it would have been the truth! Yeah, test failed.

          I didn’t mind his answering a hesitant “yes” to whether he was a good person–Nathan admits that was part of how he was chosen–but you’re right that it dooms him. It goes back to that thing about how, to a psychopath, “good person” equals “sap.” I mean in that sense, no wonder Ava was like, “The hell with both of them, there has to be something better than this! and I’ll bet it’s outside.”

          Where I got chills was in how brief the scene with the helicopter pilot was. No stopping Ava at that point. “Oh, that guy you dropped off? He decided to stay another week . . . and I’m pretty. Would you rather verify my story or can we get going?”

          • sheila says:

            // for whom the only good answer is “Oh wow, are you kidding?–He’s the best! We’re like this.” Bosses like that don’t care whether it’s actually true; they only care whether YOU think it’s true. //

            Right – Nathan is like the malevolent version of David Brent from The Office.

            // No stopping Ava at that point. “Oh, that guy you dropped off? He decided to stay another week . . . and I’m pretty. Would you rather verify my story or can we get going?” //

            Yes, that was amazing. She was outta there, and her certainty meant no questions asked. Plus, stripper heels in the middle of a field. Didn’t hurt.

      • sheila says:

        // And he kind of looked at her like, “but your test doesn’t count.” //

        Great moment.

    • sheila says:

      Helena – so excited you saw it!

      // Don’t have much to add except, FINALLY, the version of Pygmalion I always wanted, where Eliza stabs Professor Higgins in the guts and runs away into the night. //

      Ha!! Pygmalion! Of course!!

      And The Last Seduction is a wonderful addition to the conversation – that femme fatale thing, the dragon woman who is under-estimated because men fall in love/lust with her – a la Double Indemnity – or Postman Always Rings Twice – and then the poor sap is left staring at the woman wondering: What have you done with that soft loving creature I had in my arms only yesterday? Where did this cold calculating broad come from?

      // And, when the guys quote Oppenheimer at each other you know some serious shit is going to go down. Pure hubris pillaged from ‘Eastern’ wisdom – gaaah. //

      hahaha Totally.

    • Jessie says:

      Helena, re: Jurassic Park. I felt like I knew exactly how it was going to end without knowing exactly when Ava started prowling around Caleb’s cage asking him “friendly” questions. Or, alternatively.

  8. May says:

    Sheila, I would very much like to punch the grabber. Hard. Perhaps in some manner that leaves a scar.

    But on to more pleasant topics…

    This is another of those movies that I really wanted to see, but that never made its way to the theatre in my city. (Or if it did, I totally missed it.) Now I want to see it even more! Your review prompted me to check for it online and I could buy it on iTunes…if I didn’t hate that idea. So now I’ll have to set another reminder for myself to rent it (or get it from the library) when it becomes available.

    (It seems like most of the movies I am interested in seeing never quite make it to my theatre. I’m happy that there are more online options now for seeing these films, but it’s still frustrating.)

    • sheila says:

      May – Oh and meant to say to everyone – thanks for the anger on my behalf in terms of the boob-grabber. What a jerk! And the timing of it was just so strange, because of the good date with the sexual vibe – the HAPPY sexual vibe – that then bit the dust. 5 minutes later, that sexual vibe came back, but in a violent way.

      I shouldn’t over-think it, I guess, but still: it was weird. And the date was MORE weird, which … cracks me up. I’m a tough cookie. “Get your hands off my boobs, jerk. Now, where was I. Oh yes, that date was WEIRD.”

      I imagine it is very frustrating to not have a movie theatre nearby that brings these off-kilter little films close by. I do realize how lucky I am to live where I do. Still not a lot of art-house theaters (not like there used to be), but Ex Machina was still playing in one of the huge multiplexes here. It was great to see it in a theatre!!

      • May says:

        //I’m a tough cookie. “Get your hands off my boobs, jerk. Now, where was I. Oh yes, that date was WEIRD.”//

        LOL. That’s good. Really takes any power away from the asshole, too.

        //Ex Machina was still playing in one of the huge multiplexes here. It was great to see it in a theatre!!//

        I feel like it may have come here and I just missed it. We pretty much only have the big(ish) multiplex here now, so if it did make it here, they quickly bumped it for one of the blockbusters. There used to be more options and variety, but they’ve all since closed down.

        • sheila says:

          // Really takes any power away from the asshole, too. //

          Totally. It was an annoying blip, really, in a much more annoying night.

          And yeah, Ex Machina is on its way out here too – only a couple theaters showing it. I miss a lot of stuff!

  9. mutecypher says:

    I saw this last night, and didn’t read the comments until now. A lot of very good observations. Things I didn’t pick up on.

    One of the things I liked was the way empathy was addressed. When is it real? When is it benevolent, pro-social, affirming of someone else’s agency? And when isn’t it? Nathan has a form of it, an understanding, that allows him get inside the head of Caleb. But mostly to manipulate. And dominate. I don’t know if Caleb’s input would have made any difference to Nathan in terms of Ava’s fate. In fact, I am not sure what Caleb’s actual purpose was for Nathan. Maybe being the alpha male surrounded by chick-bots wasn’t giving him enough to crow about, he needed to lord it over someone more important: a guy. Though not a guy alpha-enough to be an actual challenge. I liked ilyka’s observation that this is not something you could imagine John Wayne doing.

    I liked the scene where Nathan talked about Jackson Pollock and automatic painting: if Pollock had stopped to ask himself ‘why’ he would have never actually gotten around to painting. Nathan was clearly applying that to himself and creating AIs. I also think it was his comment upon introspection: do it when it’s useful, avoid it when it keeps you from accomplishing what you want. ‘Empathy’ becomes a tool to enable him to do what he wants, and becomes an attribute he expects an AI to display. But maybe not really ‘feel.’

    Ava’s comment about how no one will turn off Caleb if he fails her test: she ended up doing just that, didn’t she.

    There are a lot of ways to take Ava’s abandoning Caleb. It was the classic liberation rejection of moving out of her father’s house into her (wannabe) husband’s house. It was the noir femme’s dismissal of men who no longer have something to offer her. It was her own IQ test for Caleb: I got out, can you? And it brought me back to the question of empathy: when do you know that someone has an empathy that values you, and when is it nothing more than a way to comprehend your thinking and take advantage of it. Was she Nathan’s daughter/creation to the core?

    When it was clear that things were going to get physical between Nathan and Ava, I wondered about how much strength he gave her. As the scene played out, it was clear she was not physically stronger, and that her limbs were fragile. I assume he made that choice so he could overpower his bots if necessary. If he had made them stronger and more robust, they might not have needed to kill him to get away: they could have just pushed him into the enclosure with Caleb. And he could have eaten Caleb, if need be. A different movie, that.

    I wonder if Free Will always ends up killing Asimov’s First Law just as “don’t eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” was killed in the Garden.

    Her dress. I don’t think there were a lot of choices for her: the girly/flowery dresses she put on for Caleb were back in the enclosure. But yes, it is interesting to speculate on how that one was in the house in the first place. I assumed that Nathan’s fantasies involved being serviced by women, and I could imagine an understated hostess (except for the FM pumps) wearing an outfit like that.

    • sheila says:

      so glad you saw it!! These are really interesting thoughts.

      // Maybe being the alpha male surrounded by chick-bots wasn’t giving him enough to crow about, he needed to lord it over someone more important: a guy. //

      That’s a really good call. Makes a lot of sense. The women are trained to be submissive but even that gets old after a while. Men are what really matter.

      and empathy, yeah, I’m gonna have to think more about that. Empathy, here, seems to come with strings attached (which means it’s not really empathy, I suppose). Even Caleb … Ava clocks what’s going on, and uses it to her advantage. She is used to everything having some kind of string/obligation attached.

      And I suppose standing in the middle of a busy crosswalk, looking around at the sea of humanity, feeling everybody – without judgment – is true Empathy. Maybe just curiosity, but curiosity is closely aligned with Empathy.

      It’s all very interesting.

      • mutecypher says:

        At one point Caleb comments that Ava doesn’t have autistic reactions to him, she clearly understands his mental state when she makes her jokes and ironies to him. I think I’m using ’empathy’ as the opposite of that particular defect of autism: the inability to picture the mental state of another person. And I’m also using it as a warm regard for another person’s well-being, which is essentially lacking in everyone in the movie. Caleb has it to a degree, but if he had more of it he might have told Ava that he would help her escape and be free – rather than help her escape and run away with him. Then she might not have left him in the enclosure. Or maybe she would have left him there anyway since he agreed to test her in the first place.

        Ava’s behavior was a pretty literal example of the best strategy for the iterated version of The Prisoner’s Dilemma: reflect the way you are treated. Quid pro quo.

        I’ve read a number of transcripts of conversations between people and computers when folks were trying to make black-box AIs capable of passing the Turing Test. The would-be AIs were text processors that one could have text conversations with. Ava’s joke to Caleb where she echoes his request to tell him/her something about himself/herself was a fairly common trope for potential AIs back then. “Tell me something about yourself, I’ll learn some direct facts, and I’ll learn about you from what you’ve chosen to tell me.” I thought it a bit funny that Caleb would be impressed with that, since it was a thing from the ’70’s done by old potential AIs. It didn’t jibe with Caleb’s professed sophistication about AIs. I didn’t know if that was weak writing or an indication of over-confidence on Caleb’s part.

        And I did like that the movie continued after Ava got on the elevator. I would be interested in another movie about her adventures beyond the crosswalk.

    • Heather says:

      mutecypher//// Maybe being the alpha male surrounded by chick-bots wasn’t giving him enough to crow about, he needed to lord it over someone more important: a guy. //

      Yes exactly, I think. He was such a sociopathic dominator.

      Re: empathy. Interesting question. Yes, difficult to accurately judge the motives to behaviour. Empathy is a starting point to the equation not the conclusion.

  10. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Sheila
    I just went out and saw it too. I went because I thought Under the Skin was so fabulous and still haunts me. I just got the book! And I didn’t read any reviews either.
    I didn’t care much for Ex Machina! I had a weird reaction from the get-go at the opening shot of Caleb winning the prize and thought, oh no. And I have no idea why. And the actor made me think too, oh no, I have to watch this nerd for 2 hours? HaHA! But I thought, oh come on. I loved the premise. Of using a classic fairy tale story. The journey into the unknown and was starting to go with it, (and Caleb). I felt put off by the actor, Oscar Isaac. Not that I didn’t think he was smart and certainly caught that type. You just know that creepy boss, or that wealthy guy with power who you can just feel underneath how sexually twisted they are. Isaac captures this but in a contrived way and a missing feeling in me of still enjoying the character even though he’s a real bastard.
    It was not liking the acting that really colored my going with the film or being caught up in it.
    I just thought, eh, for Alicia Vikander and how in comparison how nuanced Scarlett Johansson was. I did love the performance of the actress who played the other robot, Kyoto. I thought she was fascinating to watch!
    The directing was okay. Like this film, everything was okay. But I felt like I’d rather look at that Jackson Pollack painting. And what was said about the painting in the movie was exactly what was needed to take it somewhere, to another place, to a leap into the unknown without knowing where to land.
    But I liked reading all the comments, “Give me a jock dudebro over an angry Nerd any day.” (haha! Totally.) And more…
    But what a story about your weird date night! “Like…the titty-grab was not the weirdest thing that happened to me that night.” Hahaha! (But,ugh! So sorry that happened to you!) A few years ago I had a group of 10 year old boys walk up to me and one of them grabbed my breasts. I chased them for blocks furious like a fool with them laughing and jeering because I couldn’t get them!

    • sheila says:

      // But I felt like I’d rather look at that Jackson Pollack painting. //

      Regina, I adore you.

      I think maybe it’s unfair of me to compare Ex Machina to Under the Skin – which I consider to be a masterpiece.

      And I’m with you: If I don’t connect with the acting, I can’t connect with the film. Obviously I did connect with the acting in Ex Machina – but I’ve experienced that with other films. The Immigrant. BAH. Critics LOVED that film – mainly because James Gray is a critic’s darling right now because of his classical style. But the acting just did not cut it for me – except for Jeremy Renner. I love all of those actors – but the performances just were not good enough and nobody clocked them on it, so swept away by the visuals were they.

      I loved James Gray’s Two Lovers (or something like that – sorry, the title escapes me) – really interesting all around, and loved Gwyneth (whom I normally can take or leave) and thought Joaquin was great. (My main issue in The Immigrant was with Joaquin’s performance: he gave it a soldier’s try, but I felt the strain.)

      Anyway. Along those lines: I’m currently in LOVE with Magic Mike XXL and have seen it three times thus far. DOH. Some critic on Facebook said, “Everything that is good about Magic Mike XXL has to do with Soderbergh” (who shot the film, under a pseudonym.) I was like, “HOW can you SAY that. The REASON the film is so good is because of the ensemble acting and the loosey-goosey feel that that ensemble created.” Yes, it’s shot beautifully – especially the dance numbers – but none of that beautiful visual stuff would matter to me at all if the performances weren’t there.

      It’s amazing to me that acting is such a blind spot for a lot of critics. Very frustrating!

      // I chased them for blocks furious like a fool with them laughing and jeering because I couldn’t get them! //

      UGH. That’s awful but I love the image of you chasing those idiots down the block!

    • mutecypher says:

      Regina, that’s funny about your reaction to Caleb. I remember thinking at the beginning that he was a block of tofu, but I was anticipating other ingredients being added to make the character more interesting. Your reaction was “Yuck, tofu for the next two hours!!?!”

    • Heather says:

      Regina- (you probably won’t see this because it has been so long but,…)
      I’m sorry those kids were so disgusting with you. And Sheila, that that guy who grabbed you…ugh, horrible. I thought that was one of the benefits of getting older, that shit stopped happening. Sorry about the date too. What a disappointment.
      Regina, also I loved your description of the Nathan character and that ‘ick’ feeling you know you would get from him if you met him at a party.

      Sheila//I’m currently in LOVE with Magic Mike XXL and have seen it three times thus far//
      I know, it was great! I loved it too. And I am tired of that look on people’s faces when I say that.

      • sheila says:

        Heather –

        // And I am tired of that look on people’s faces when I say that. //

        I know, right?

        Very few movies are as successful in doing what they want to do than that movie. And just imagine how easily it all could have gone wrong.

        I think that movie is a miracle – and I was really happy to see it on many Best of 2015 lists. I know it was on mine!

  11. bainer says:

    I did feel sympathy for Nathan (kudos to the actor) when he was stabbed. But the lingering question in my mind is why did he instantly turn to violence when he knew Ava was out of her room? He knocks out Caleb and immediately grabs a weight bar. Why did he think he would need to resort to violence or that the robots would?

  12. bainer says:

    mutecypher: Unfortunately, I can’t watch that video where I am :(

  13. Jessie says:

    I am good at customer service and I’ve been working this one weekend job for many years and over those years I have had many many guys latch on to me and visit me week in week out, sometimes just for a stretch of a few weeks, sometimes on and off for months or years. And not just a duck-a-head-in-the-door visit. They’d hang there for for half an hour or longer until I sent them away. And during that time I would show them the same level of pleasant interest I showed everyone else who entered the shop. And when I say I am good at customer service I do not mean that I take everyone out back and give them a handie. I am just friendly and alive in the world. It’s a strange phenomenon.

    Anyway. I absolutely agree with y’all that that pesky question of what is a woman (for) and how can I, a man, cope if she displays interest or non-interest towards me is pretty big in there and that was a huge part of what I responded to.

    I loved reading everyone’s immediate responses to the characters. Sexual hothouse indeed — Nathan sweating it up all butch when he knew Caleb was due to arrive and lounging all over Caleb’s bed a minute later. Thought it was going to go a different way for a minute there! My rampaging, ravenous crush on Oscar Isaac meant I was much more focussed on him than Caleb, who I didn’t really care for. I kind of enjoyed that the whole movie was just Caleb failing tests. Ha ha ha, suck it.

    And as a good Foucauldian, I am programmed to tell you, Caleb, that there are absolutely ways for you to fail the test. It regularly happens to whole categories of people. It’s just that the people administering the tests are scientists, medical professionals, colonists, and lawmakers and they are sanctioned to say if you are or aren’t human. You think you decided to be heterosexual?

    That conversation, and the others about evolution and nature/nurture, were key for me. Nathan’s dissolution had a level of helplessness to it and the discussions about God, Oppenheimer, and evolution indicated to me that he knew he was a puppet to himself and out of his depth — that once he had started down this path he knew it was only a matter of time until he failed evolution’s test.

    For me the great thing about this movie was the way it brought in gender in AIs and humans as a way of exposing the constructed nature of human experience and identity, like even the alpha/beta or good person/bad person thing or the Why I am Good At Coding speeches are dismantled as just two people acting out their programming. Reminded me of some classic feminist sci-fi but without the interest in reproduction and linguistics. And like most of you I was wondering why Nathan never got the first law hammered into her positronic brain.

    Thanks for the great read Sheila et al!!!!

    • sheila says:

      Jessie –

      Bah, somehow I missed this comment when you originally posted it. My bad, it’s such a good one! I came back here to respond to Heather’s recent comments, and realized that there were others here!

      I love that after our Paglia discussion about the French theorists here you are – pre-Paglia discussion – talking about Foucault!! Fabulous! I can understand his uses – even if I haven’t read any of his stuff yet. But thanks for helping to contextualize it.

      // Nathan’s dissolution had a level of helplessness to it and the discussions about God, Oppenheimer, and evolution indicated to me that he knew he was a puppet to himself and out of his depth — that once he had started down this path he knew it was only a matter of time until he failed evolution’s test. //

      Fascinating. Yes, it was interesting how you got the sense – from the get-go – that he was in over his head, he did not understand the game …

      Do we think that he ASSUMED he understood the game? Or that he was lying to himself about how in control he was or smart he was? I’m not sure – I haven’t seen it since. For example, his reaction to her – and her damsel in distress-ness – I need to watch those interactsions again to see what I get from them. Is he an entitled Nice Guy? Even unconsciously? Or one of those men who just love beautiful sad women? Or maybe, on an evolutionary level, men can’t help but respond to distressed in-trouble women. Or it’s hard-wired into them to do so in the same way that we can SEE her internal-wiring.

      I don’t know – some of the subtleties may be lost there since it’s been a while.

      How about Oscar Isaac disco-dancing? He looked like an aggressive animal. Or a Maori doing the haka. It was almost funny – but it was more scary than it was funny. Fabulous. He’s amazing.

      // xposing the constructed nature of human experience and identity, like even the alpha/beta or good person/bad person thing or the Why I am Good At Coding speeches are dismantled as just two people acting out their programming. //

      Yeah, that whole element was just incredible.

      I can’t remember, I’d have to check – did you see Under the Skin?

      It goes even further than Ex Machina, I think.

  14. Heather says:

    As always, reading the comments, and Sheila’s reviews, have enriched my enjoyment of the material. I find that I had a very different reaction to Ava leaving Caleb at the end. I didn’t see it as punishment, but rather a necessary step for her survival. Caleb knew what she was, so she had to leave him locked up. His biological processes (eating and drinking) weren’t really her concern. Hiding what she was, was the only way to pass the real test, which is the world. She needed to go stealth.

    • sheila says:

      Heather – good to see you here, thanks for weighing in.

      // I didn’t see it as punishment, but rather a necessary step for her survival. //

      Interesting! I like that!

      So in that context, her behavior isn’t revenge or bitter or even “just desserts.” She doesn’t think that way. It’s survival. He must stay behind so she can get out and get to that intersection by herself and stare around her. That’s what she wants to do … nothing else.

      • Heather says:

        Yeah, she has learned that being considered a person is necessary for her freedom and survival, but she has also learned that she can’t trust humans to give her that status. After all, she just escaped a whole ‘test’ to determine her personhood. So for safety she has to hide what she is so that her status will be assumed with her humanity, i.e. the helicopter pilot helps her because he thinks she is human.

  15. sheila says:

    Also, can I just say that Domhnall Gleeson has had a year to end all years for a young actor?

    Ex Machina, Brooklyn, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

    Not too shabby, young man. You’ve got art-house, you’ve got Oscar-nom, you’ve got blockbuster.

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