Blog Directory CineVerse: Passing Turing's test with flying colors

Passing Turing's test with flying colors

Thursday, April 18, 2019

If you enjoy films that force you to ask deep existential and philosophical questions--particularly queries that are topical and relevant in our increasingly technological current times--then you owe it to yourself to become immersed in "Ex Machina," quite the thought-provoking picture. Our CineVerse crowd engaged in a healthy discussion on said film last night. Here's a summary:

What did you find surprising, refreshing or unexpectedly different about this film?
  • It falls into several subgenres; it plays as a horror film or thriller, a science-fiction movie, a cautionary tale morality play, and even somewhat as a film noir in how Ava functions as a kind of femme fatale who uses her wiles and charms to destroy men.
  • It’s an extremely simple premise, setting, plot and cast. There really are only four characters shown. There’s relatively little “action,” and the special effects aren’t bombastic. Yet, despite these simplicities, the themes and questions the picture evokes are quite complex. Arguably, the most satisfying or intriguing element of this film is in trying to determine what each character’s designs or motives are. Who is testing who?
  • Ex Machina is replete with Biblical nods and references. Ava sounds like Eve; Caleb and Nathan are both Old Testament names. Nathan’s built environment around her suggests a Garden of Eden of sorts, with Caleb serving as Adam, Eva representing Eve and Nathan a stand-in for God (a god who is “drunk” on power throughout much of the movie).
What is this movie about? What are the big ideas at work here?
  • What does being human mean? What makes artificial intelligence intelligent, and at what point can an artificial intelligence pass for a human being (based on the Turing test or otherwise)? And to what extent are human beings themselves programmed?
  • The dangers of playing God and trying to create artificial life
  • Taking and passing a test: Nathan is testing Caleb as well as Eva, Eva is testing Caleb, and Eva is also testing the viewer—think about how she’s trying to sway Caleb and the audience into thinking that she’s essentially human and female.
  • Skeletons in the closet. We see inert figures of past robots hanging in Nathan’s closet, suggesting that he’s got plenty of dark secrets.
  • What it takes for women to break free from men’s expectations and control of them and achieve true autonomy. Consider how Ava is an objectified “thing” that, ironically, uses how men think of women against them—Caleb sees her as a helpless prisoner and an attractive love interest; Eva exploits these feelings to help her escape. Arguably, she becomes an empowered real woman once she leaves Nathan’s prison—in the sense that she can blend in and pass for a human female. Also, recall the story Caleb tells her earlier about Mary in the black-and-white room who becomes human once she escapes from that room and enters the outer world.
    • Blogger Robert Anderson wrote: “For the entirety of the movie Ava is genderless and not human. Her flirtations with Caleb are a tactical escape plan that involve the utilization of her assigned gender. It is only after her escape, during the film’s denouement that she becomes human and a woman. It is after Nathan’s death that she takes the skin from the other failed A.I. and constructs her feminine body. The driving forces that facilitate Ava’s escape are the male egos of Caleb and Nathan. Nathan’s estate is a small-scale patriarchy kingdom, with an entourage of robotic female slaves. Nathan has no intention of releasing Ava; even if she proves to have complete consciousness, he will never view her as anything more than a machine. This is Nathan’s downfall. By invalidating Ava’s status as a living consciousness, he is blinded to her ability to succeed in escaping his facility. He never suspects that she would be one step ahead of him…Why does Ava leave Caleb for dead in Nathan’s facility at the end of the movie? Perhaps just as Nathan would never validate her as a being with consciousness, Caleb will never validate Ava as an independent woman. In the post-escape world of Ex Machina, if Ava were to bring Caleb back to civilization with her, her escape would not be her own, it would be a product of Caleb’s ‘heroics.’”
  • The “blurred line between human life and its imitations,” per Atlantic reviewer David Sims
  • The “uneasiness regarding social interaction,” Sims continued, “and the inherent fears everyone has…about whether someone else really likes you or if they’re just faking it.”
    • Sims asks, “Is Ava showing interest in Caleb because she’s designed to behave like a human, or is she simply trying to manipulate him into granting her freedom? And even if it’s the latter, doesn’t that kind of survival instinct make her, in a way, human?”
Kindred films or works of literature include:
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (both works feature a young man invited to a castle inhabited by a strange loner)
  • Metropolis
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Silent Running
  • Blade Runner
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  • Her

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