Unlike my Movie Mondays co-host, Ben, I wasn’t super excited about the arrival of Ex_Machina on DVD. Alex Garland and I don’t exactly have a troubled past but I’ve always found the realisations of his penmanship pretty dull. The Beach (1999), 28 Days / Weeks Later (2002, 2007), Sunshine (2007), Dredd (2012) (I didn’t get around to seeing Never Let Me Go, 2010) all left me unimpressed. It’s not so much that they’re bad films, just that they aren’t good ones. Still penning the screenplay, but adding a directorial feather to his filmmaking cap, Garland’s Ex_Machina makes for some pretty unintelligent and far from inventive viewing.
Perhaps its strongest point – let’s start with that and descend into disdain from there – is its one contemporary grounding. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) explains to Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) that he has created real artificial intelligence, through the mining and analysing of internet search engine data. Instead of thinking about an individual’s search history as ‘what’ they’re searching, he interprets the movements and trajectory as ‘how’. Without explaining the science in too much, or perhaps any, depth, we then learn that Ava’s (Alicia Vikander) brain is kinda like an electro magnetic map of a search engine. Considering where technology is headed – down and up-loadable brain activity, human enhancement and bio-politics – this seems like a plausible near future sci-fi premise.
What’s not so progressive is the film’s themes. Its exploration of gender politics and creationism, or the god complex, is pretty standard fare. Ex_Machina plays out somewhere between Luc Besson’s Lucy (2014) and Spike Jonze’s Her. Where the former was entirely bat shit crazy in its premise and somewhat troubling for its gender politics (Lucy is a not very smart woman whose body is literally used as a transportation device only the whole thing goes wrong and, oops, a hot woman got smart) it did at least offer fantastic car chase scenes. As for Her, again starring Scarlett Johansson only this time as a disembodied OS, there were some intriguing ideas about gender, through voice and imagined sensibilities (the OS, like Siri, can be assigned a gender). Ex_Machina, comparatively, simply shows us a man creating a woman (and, as it turns out, several women) as prototypes that are built with sexuality – mostly with the intent to manipulate, because, you know, that’s what female sexuality is – and who adhere to a mainstream heteronormative socially acceptable notion of beauty. Yawn.
The dialogue that best reflects this simplistic idea varies from Nathan asking Caleb “what’s your type of girl?” because desire is all about types and has nothing to do with other human qualities, and “If you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you can and she’d enjoy it”, because sexual intercourse is something a man does to a woman not a consensual act between two people (or, in this instance one human and an AI) and because the fact that physically she would ‘enjoy it’ completely surpasses the need to consider any other motivating or engaged responses to sex and sexuality. The scenes where she quite literally constructs her gender from skin, clothes, wigs, etc., and the fact that Nathan has her created based on Caleb’s porn profiles doesn’t in any way further make this a very basic nod towards the idea that women are constructed for the pleasure of men.
Now, if you wanted to defend the film by going down the whole, ‘but it’s a story about a woman trying to escape from the literal and figurative oppression of men’ that’d be fine, except for that she is created by a man which means that, even if she does escape, she still owes her very existence to men.
So for me it was unsatisfying. That said, there’s a great dance sequence and the house where things unfold is at least as desirable as everything else ought to be.