Review: Ex Machina


I watched this film the other night, late, and it was the perfect environment I was waiting for: my lovely wife asleep, the kids in bed, earphones on, whiskey sours in hand. It was everything I hoped for from this project, and actually, much more. I was focused on all the visual stuff during production: Jock’s design work for Eva, the visual style that seemed equal parts Kubrick* and Nolan, and so much of the minimal tech merged with beautiful ‘tension architecture’**… but the themes, and the way it unfolded with such clean, unsettling certainty in the script and performances, reminded me of good SF from the 60s… you know, REAL SF, not pulp adventure SF we all enjoy. What a counterpoint to Asimov. I really enjoyed the levels of it: the surface level, in which I definitely related to Caleb and was titellated in this weirdly surreal way (I loved the mannerisms and eyes and tone of Eva, so I was the target market right there with him, not necessarily getting sexually aroused but not finding her robotic body ASEXUAL either,) was super into Kyoko*** on a physical level, but also super-tense from the danger, the duplicity, the blind box nature of the experiment and surveillance, sort of a ‘doing it in public’ crossed with ‘if her father hears us i’m dead’ vibe that makes such things so electric. I kind of laughed, thinking that this could have been marketed as an ‘erotic thriller’ and I would have agreed more than I would normally, since films labeled that way rarely work for me. Anyway, I’m weird. But then, on another level, I was really turned on, so to speak, by the thematic material, the faults and strange deviance turned deadly missteps of Nathan’s character, the interesting reactions and choices of Nathan, and then on another level, the perspective from Eva’s viewpoint, both what she, and the narrative, led us to believe she was wrestling with, vs. ultimately what she appeared to be processing, as witnessed in her final choices. My boss said it well: “Eva was created in Nathan’s image” and that resonated with me. The flaws of man, etc. But it hung with me for days. I’ve found myself, even this morning on the way to work, internally debating the free will vs. coded protections (Asimov again, but how it relates to slavery and the question of true sentience…); how could an AI be truly sentient if limited in coding to have specific emotional responses to humans, to have blocks against violence or dissent… and in a similar way, how the coding in of gender and heterosexuality and the pleasure centers, etc linked to a very immature (in terms of physical time, not necessarily emotional maturity) developing sense of self. It was super dark. I loved it. I also started thinking about nature-nurture, which as a parent is always on my mind. The big classic questions, at least in the atheist worldview: inherent moral structures vs. learned rules… would an AI coded and trained by a human, say a western human, adopt a western human ethical and moral compass? Even those concepts are shaky at best when you see what people do to each other in the world.

Final note: I’m often fond of films were the setting is a character, and this was no exception. The Juvet hotel just had me glued to it, from beginning to end. I was pre-hooked, ever since I read about the production and looked it up, and yes, I’m an architect so I’m going to lean a certain way in my focus, but it really spoke to me. I love mid-century modern/international style glass and raw material residential architecture, and I love the juxtaposition with the natural landscape beyond it (I may be wrong, but isn’t it true there were no organic living materials in that house other than Nathan? The tree courtyard slash divider was separated by glass from the rest of the interior, and all the foresty landscape was on the exterior. The house itself was beautiful and cold… like the AI projects.) but also the tension architecture I mentioned.

*I’ve read that Oscar Isaac used Kubrick as one of his inspirations for Nathan. I was picking up more of a literal Jobs slash Page/Brinn slash Musk vibe (I used slashes and the word slash in the same reference, interrobang)

**tension architecture really interests me, and you see a lot of it in Scandinavian retreats. Such as the smooth face of the raw stone wall that comprised a good chunk of the main residential living space, where a portion of it was left naturally shaped and textured.

***I was trying to figure out, as it went, why I was so charged by Kyoko, and then I sort of figured it out before I even googled her. Beyond my well-documented interest in mixed-ethnicity brunettes, it was her physical mannerisms, not really the walking around rigidly and quietly, but some of how she was moving in one of my favorite scenes (the dance) and how she acted in the hallway: I dated an ex-ballet dancer and it was the same sort of movement: this thing where the body is in a constant fluid motion, yet controlled. I think it gets hardwired into them. So to speak, so to speak. I know she was moving deliberately, but I’m saying just spending a year with an ex-ballet dancer, you see how they stand and walk and pivot on regular mundane things. They don’t know how NOT to. At least that was my experience. I didn’t realize she was literally a ballet dancer while watching it, though she seemed like she had a solid dance foundation based on that scene… but to read the combination of background that actress has, it became clearer why it was so gut-level familiar to me. So that was a thing.

SO DOPE. One of my favorite films now, easily.

Chief of Ninja Group