*No machines were harmed in the making of this review
Since I should do horror movie reviews because I have done so in the past, I will review Ex Machina. I will consider it a horror for several reasons: it has a suspense element that deals with isolation themes, humanity, and there is a “spooky” twist…that you see coming from the first minute.
I will also review it as it has affected my writing life, thus killing two birds with one stone.
Here is the plot of Ex Machina
And here is the plot of Strange Attractors
The similarities are AI, and my pseudonym, and a few others.
Without further ado, an apology and a review:
APOLOGY AND SET UP:
At first I was afraid that this movie was as rip off of not only my pseudonym, but also of my novel Strange Attractors. The elements of creative theft were there: the fact that my name and subject of my novel are right there in the movies title and premise.
I was both relieved and afraid that it still is.
Please, those of you who defended me believing I was plagiarized, I am sorry I was wrong. Also apologies to the films creators. I am sorry for the reasons below.
First off, my initial hope was that this film WAS like my book for one solid reason: I wanted to use this as a way to leverage my own creative endeavors onto the coat tails of someone in Hollywood, with grandiose thoughts that I would somehow get into a Hollywood creative thinktank where I would have financial stability and endless creative input.
I still have that high minded goal. I am sorry that I thought your film could do this.
My relief came in the form of “Well, at least I think MY story is very original.”
My fear came in the form of “In some way I hope people don’t ever think my novel is like this movie.”
I am very sorry that I thought this film was going to be like my book, because it isn’t, and I don’t want the stigma of the movie to be linked to my book.
I do find hypocrisy in being critical of a medium that I do not create in, but since the subject matter hit close to home, I’ll go for it.
Disclaimer: I am assuming you have already seen Ex Machina, or have read its description so I won't tell you what its about. I have spoilers, so you have been warned.
I enjoyed this movie as a decent time waster, but not really as a film. Although it got great reviews from people not normally into sci-fi films, I think those that have an immersion in the genre will find it lacking.
Let me put it this way: it’s a better introduction to AI than the film AI, but not as good as Battle Star Galactica (2005)
Robo-Jurassic Park starts with a fine idea for a movie, and slowly slides downhill from there before crashing...
Sorry. The film starts off with a helicopter in a remote area, and a piano tune that completely reminded me of Jurassic Park. It was very hard not to insert Simpson-Itchy-and-Scratchy-Island jokes into the movie, where nothing “could possiblie go wrong…possibly go wrong. That was the first thing that’s gone wrong”.
While the idea of a man meeting the first AI robot is ripe with potential, its quickly lost in the massive universe of possibilities that I feel my novel explored a little more, and actually made me want to rewrite so that I could flesh out those ideas even further: individuality, friendship, loyalty, morality, love, sex, wealth, freedom- are all touched on but never fully examined. What makes us human and what makes AI interesting is all of these things. While I didn’t really want a dark version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s or My Dinner With Android (wait…I might use that for a short story…) it is also what I wanted.
The reveal of tortured sex slaves seemed tacked on and pointless. How am I supposed to feel sorry for a fleshlight that talks?
If we are to believe that the current incarnation of Ava (the films female protagonist) is the first AI, then any empathy I would have for the older models is akin to anthropomorphizing sex toys, and detracts from the movies emotional reveal at how “evil” Nathan Bateman (the Creator!) really is.
So what if he destroys his toys? They were “failed” AI, and never really cognitive. Especially since the “deaths” are mainly suicidal. That could just be a fault in programming, and not a despair at existential realization.
Sorry if I spoiled the movie. Honestly I could tell you everything about the film and I hope you would still see it if only to form your own opinion.
To its credit, the film still looks great in its homage to the Shining. It definitely shows the isolation well, but at times it felt unnecessary.
The score isn’t distracting, initially. I do sometimes long for traditional film scores, with actual themes. Ex Machina started to lean into its “Jackson Pollack” metaphor a bit too much in the end. Ominous sounds that are grating and annoying are supposed to be scores now, apparently. I first really started getting annoyed at this trend in the TV series Hannibal, and I actually have Forgetting Sarah Marshal to thank for even becoming aware of this trend.
(I’ll take a moment to say that I don’t LIKE comparing films to other films, and in this case I’m not. FSM had Jason Segel complaining that he didn’t write music anymore, that he merely created mood sounds, and mocks this by playing Seinfeld’s thematic music during an autopsy he’s supposed to be scoring.)
Finally, the characters.
While there are only really three characters in this movie, I felt that there was only really one: that of the CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) who is forcibly shown as a psychopath. I mean forcibly, because he acts like a normal, likeable person filmed in a way that seems evil. Every instance of him being rude or a jerk, when seen post film, is not really bad.
In one scene he is verbally abusive to his servant, calling her all kinds of names, and then later having sex with her after beating up a punching bag.
Sounds super psycho, right?
Let me put it to you this way: How would it appear if you watched a movie where a man modified his Roomba vacuum to bring him beer (which it spilled), yelled at it for making a mess, worked out for a while, and then used the Roomba to get off sexually?
Definitely sad, maybe antisocial to a degree, and also understandable. How many of us have cursed a coffee table for being stupid and rude to us for stubbing our toe, worked out our anger, and pleased ourselves?
So mental! We should be incarcerated and treated as the super villains we are.
Yet this is exactly what happens. Bateman has a robot servant that has no AI, spills a drink, that he then has sex with, but we aren't supposed to KNOW its a robot until later. The falsity is thinking the vacuum is a person! His evil ranting is stupid when most people would figure out right away she isn't human, and even if you don't figure it out right away, it still isn't evil. Rude or crass, maybe, but not psychopathic as the movie tries to make you think.
Bateman is a more human character than Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson). Caleb is an emotionally closed off person that I wouldn’t have chosen to prove AI because his back story makes him the perfect person to be tricked into having emotional feelings for a girl robot. The whole premise of the movie is a Turing Test! Why would you have a character that is emotionally stunted and looking for love be the tester/tested? I would have chosen an emotionally stable, well rounded person who is used to dealing with people, possibly a “ladies man” who Ava would have to convince is real…or even a person who does NOT believe AI is possible. Wouldn’t it be better to prove a skeptic, to have a skeptic fall in love with an AI, over a coding nerd with abandonment issues?
That’s just me.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) does a fine job as an AI, and I did especially enjoy the nuanced moments where she slips in and out of human emulation. It’s subtle as Alicia flits from warm human emotion to a static, expressionless state, and into a new expression almost seamlessly. If you aren’t watching closely, you’ll miss it and that’s what makes it so very good. Alicia knows she is a robot pretending to be a human and slides these artificial moments in so well that someone not trained in acting might confuse it with bad acting or flat acting.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s what I saw.
Did I like this film? Yes and no.
I liked my novel more than this movie, but I like Battle Star Galactica more than my novel.
(How’s that for non-sequiter movie comparisons!)
This movie didn’t really cheat any of its established rules, the acting is decent, the quality is good, and the special effects are not distracting*. It’s ending is predictable, however, and you don’t really root for anyone.
If you end up rooting for Ava as she (OBVIOUS SPOILER) Kills Bateman, then it is YOU the viewer who is a nutjob! Why? Nothing Bateman did justifies his murder because he is not an evil person. A jerk with a huge ego, maybe, but not deserving of his fate If you don't end up feeling bad for Batemen, it's because you think he's a psycho instead of a lonely genius and you've been duped by culture. He's the real victim of the movie; his genius and wealth has completely isolated him from genuine human interaction and he ends up looking for love in all the wrong places, and in the process creates a monster, not a person.
I feel that in my novel Strange Attractors (that has more than three characters AND takes place where the movie pretty much leaves off) has much more nuanced characters, spooky moments (it has ghosts, after all), and a more interesting plot.
The similarities are certain themes (love, standing in the sun), but it is very different from my premise and execution.
These are two very different ways of dealing with the same subject matter of artificial intelligence. My novel assumes you know about AI and haven’t been living under a rock, and tries to understand nonsexual love.
Ex Machina deals more with explaining what AI is, and how sex is the end all be all of human existence, and that it will be another tool used against us by the dreaded Terminator.
Buy my book! It will be more valuable for your time, and more thought provoking, but buy it for yourself and make up your own mind.
*I don’t really care about special effects. If a movie has a great story I can forgive bad special effects. If a movie has great special effects but horrible acting and story, it doesn’t matter. Star Wars: Episode One=great special effects. X-Men: Wolverine bootlegged no special effects pirate copy=good, studio released=terrible.
There is the possibility that, given God/gods are of an "extra" or super-nature existence, that the Catholic idea of "seeing" god would cause severe damage, that we could experience one or all of the following concepts:
Change Blindness:It's your inability to notice changes that happen right in front of you, even if they're hugely obvious... as long as you don't see the actual change take place.
Cryptomnesia: You come up with a great idea. But it isn't yours, your brain just doesn't bother remembering where it got the idea. It's a form of plagiarism disguised as epiphany. So if you were "blind to the miraculous", you might think it was your idea that people with shellfish allergies shouldn't eat lobster, instead of God commanding you not to eat it (Leviticus 11:12)
Saccadic Masking: Quick, look at the wall to your left. When you flicked your eyes over there, for just a moment, you were blind. And you didn't even know it. Your optic nerve shuts down while you move your eye so you don't experience motion sickness.
Subconscious Behavior: Our brains are lots of things, but they aren't particularly aren't good at coping with entirely unexpected situations. We deal with almost everything that happens to us by comparing ongoing events with past experiences, mostly in our subconscious. Our minds pay much more attention to comparisons with past experiences than they do with the events facing you at any given moment. Seeing something truly miraculous just might cause you to think you were simply hallucinating, or daydreaming.
(This one is kind of a stretch) Proprioception: It's your brain's map of your body. Your mind can be tricked regarding its own size, and even sensation, like when you press your arms against a door frame for several minutes and then step away, only to have a "mysterious force" lift your arms. If a deity naturally altered it's surroundings due to it's nature, and you were change blind to it, you might stub your toe on one and your brain would simply re-adjust to thinking it hit a coffee table.
That's without going into emotional explanations. There is the possibility that, paraphrasing the movie Se7en, you can't just "walk up to someone and have a conversation with them. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you have their full attention."
If there are gods, then there exists the possibility of demons, who would trick our minds more effectively than the everyday brainwashing we already get. How easy would it be for a super-natured being, given extreme longevity, to alter fundamentally how we "see" the world around us? Even from a cultural standpoint, going back far enough when there were few humans, to develop what we know as a cargo cult, but one on a massive scale with misinformation (religions, atheism, etc) at its core.
Combined with the fact that if a being was around long enough, and was different enough (or so similar to us), we wouldn't even be able to recognize it was a god. It may look like
a rock, or a tree, or just about anything.
I don't worry too much about those things, but i do find them entertaining.
Be careful of who you may be entertaining, for you may be entertaining.....
So this adventure of science based meaning (or, more accurately, statistic based meaning. Since statistics are based on math, and math is a science, you could say this is science based) fell flat for me.
Essentially, "statistics were shown" that if you go through the motions of having meaning, it will make you feel better.
To clarify, it is shown through different examples that people who volunteer have a general feeling that their lives mean something. The theory is then postulated that since these people have a good mood and feeling of meaning, then you should do what they do. Forget if the reason they are volunteering is because they already had meaning, or if they have religion. While the stats can show correlations, it doesn't solve the "what came first, the chicken or the egg", or, "Did having meaning spur you to volunteer, or did volunteering spur you to have meaning."
Since most of the lessons ended with this question, I shall sum up my experiment:
What was the most important thing you learned in this lesson?
That science (or should I say shown statistics) did not help me find meaning in my life.
Yesterday I talked to my wife about a new project I had started working on. I was really excited about it. She said, "Maybe that's your meaning or purpose", and I laughed. "That isn't meaning, that's just something I like that I'm excited about."
I once had a janitorial job that I was really "good" at, and someone said to me "Maybe that's your purpose in life."
What? It's just a means to an end. My project may make me feel good, or even other people, but to what end?
My "purpose" (from what I've interpreted) is to do something on purpose, there's no greater meaning to it, and it might make me feel good. This does not have any greater meaning even to myself, though. It's a nice sandwich, full of all the meats and toppings that I like, and it may even, hypothetically, "nourish" me. But nourish me for what reason? So that I can run faster or watch Netflix longer?
This course has tried to teach me to rationalize my goals as though they had quality, or that their "meaning to me" was meaningful.
I feel as though I have not gained or lost anything in my life, except time and money.
I feel like this course is just a way to make time until someone else discovers what its all about.
Nothing in the course recommendations are bad in any objective way, and that's kind of the problem. The idea that this is the only life you have so you (and it can go both ways at this point):
Should work to make it good for all.
Grab what you can before you die.
And to gather meaning from either.
Seems a little disingenuous.
This is a continuation of an ongoing series, soon to be completed. Please, go back and read the first entry if you are just showing up.
I know I should give "finding the meaning of life" more time. It's one of the great questions of all time, after all.
But towards the end of the lesson plans I found myself pushing for the end, with no real "answers"
Intentional Insights seems intentional, but provides little insight, in my opinion.
I found myself less and less open to the lessons, and Doppelganger took over more and more.
I'll still maintain doing the goals, because time may show that I was wrong with my initial dealing, and actually do find some kind of meaning. You get what you give, right?
As it stands right now? I did thirteen lessons to be given my final assignments of...
1. buying the Intentional Insights book, and
2. Leaving a positive review.
Genius. I wish I had thought of doing something like that. I'd have a lot more spending money, that's for sure. Have a person pay for basically a really long advertisement that makes them feel they are accomplishing things, and then sell them something.
Here's an abbreviated response to the lessons given to me by an Associate professor of history who used anecdotal evidence and statistics as a way to help me find meaning in my life. I have provided the answers I gave to the lesson, but not the lesson itself.
Every lesson quiz begins with "Statistics... blardy blar blar."
Assignment 4 is to “watch videotaped feedback from participants in the workshop to learn more about their stories and perspectives on meaning and purpose. You will have an opportunity to evaluate your own experience in relation to the workshop participants.”
The videos are all on youtube. We are to watch the videos and then comment on them.
The gist? Each of us is free to formulate her or his own answer to this question (What is the meaning of our life).
Doppelganger: I'm finding it easier and easier to pick everything apart. If the goal is to find meaning for the self, and not some grand meaning, couldn't you also say that if it doesn't work (you haven't found meaning) maybe change your perspective and act like it does have meaning. For example, working in a soup kitchen might not fulfill you right away, but if you convince yourself you are doing something "good" then you could condition yourself to like it and have meaning. After all, many of the religious groups use arduous physical labor as a means to condition followers into thinking their contributions mean something.
Helping others might feel nice, but it isn't really an act of altruism. In this regard, finding the meaning of your life through community still feels self serving to a degree. Our actions can really only be "judged" by our lifespans, so pursuing a life of decadence can make us just as happy as a "worthwhile" or community based life. After death, cognitive function ceases, and we can feel no regrets and the opinion of others does not matter to us. Finding the meaning of your life could be hanging out with a bunch of bearded guys and strapping bombs to vests. There's meaning and purpose for the individual in those groups. And if there is no afterlife or meaning to existence, then those bombers views are just as legitimate as the people in this course.
Here is an excerpt from Doppelgangers Response to the course lesson
Lesson 6: Do You Need Religion for Life Meaning and Purpose?
“What is the meaning of life for you?”
I still haven't found the meaning, if there is one. Apparently I find no meaning in my own life. Strangely, or aptly, this doesn't bother me. I do not lose sleep wondering "what it all means" or "Why am I here?" Whatever the reason I am supposed to be here is, I'm doing it, whether I know what it is or not.
How did you reach your answer?
A combination of an old African tribes beliefs; Great Oludemare created us to serve a purpose and we're doing it even if we don't know what "it" is, and the scientific postulation that the Big Band set up the initial conditions, and all of reality is just a playing out of subatomic particles; that is free will is an illusion and we're just a bunch of gears in a random machine.
Lesson 7: Communities and Life Purpose
Intentional Insights asks: Did you ever try journaling?
Doppelganger: Once, when I was younger. I found that leaving a mental papertrail was an incredible liability. Oddly, I was inspired to keep such a journal after reading Harriet the Spy (great book). Like Harriet, my observations and thoughts were used against me, and it taught me that my thoughts are my own, and need no record to be validated.
If you did, what kind of benefits did you get?
At best I learned that memories are flawed and colored by emotion. Films I loved as a youth were horrible when watched as an adult. The phrase, "when I was a child I spoke as a child and thought as a child, and when I grew up I put such childish things away" came to mind.
What kind of challenges did you run into?
One major obstacle was justifying the time to writing the journal. I had, and still have, little time for such writing. I would rather work on a novel than sum up my day. And with the proliferation of Facebook, I don't even really need to. I can go back several years and look at posts I made a long time ago, or collate thoughts I had in a philosophy forum, etc..
From your experience, how can the process of journaling be optimized?
I guess you could start a blog instead of paper writing, although paper writing aids in patience development and long term focus.
I write (fiction, children's stories, short stories, blurbs, philosophical editorials, etc), and sometimes I write re enacted scenes, or how I would like arguments to go, or how they could have gone worse. I write counter arguments to things I hear people say, sometimes I write from a completely different viewpoint as though I actually believe what I am writing. So I don't see why journaling should be exclusive to my mental health.
Lesson 8 Rituals and how they are important....
This lesson has all the trappings of religion, with none of that messy deity worship. Basically, if you act like a religious person SHOULD act, you will feel better about your life....
I don't feel I learned anything from this lesson. Rituals are definitely important to heroine users; those that have broken their addictions who then relapse die not because they overdose, but because they changed their ritual.
to explain, most heroine users go through a defined set of steps before they inject. This system helps when they do not have a rational mind, and they can shoot up by wrote. With going clean, they have often been trained to avoid doing all the activities that led them to use heroine, and in doing so, the much needed mental/physical preparedness is gone. The time they took to shoot up in a specific way alerted their body to prepare itself for the incoming drugs.
They ignore this ritual and die because their body hasn't "braced" itself.
Really, rituals are just a form of operant or self conditioning. These actions are reinforced as effective due to the fallacious reasoning of peer justification, or "Everybody else does it so it must be okay."
But that's just me. What do I know?
Lesson 9: Meaning, Purpose, and Civic Engagement
Have you done any volunteering with others in your social circle?
Not in my current social circle, but I have volunteered extensively, from soup kitchens to cleaning my local church. I haven't done it (volunteer) recently due to many factors, primary being the needs of my family.
If so, what benefits do you think you gained?
I gained the perspective that I really don't like people generally, and I feel that I have to pretend to be nice. I saw the same people with the same problems from the time I started to the time I left volunteering, and even left the city I was in. One woman in particular even had the same sign for three years that read "I just need enough to get home" (this is rhetoric, though). I also found out that many of the homeless made about $20 a day.
If not, what are practical steps you can take to help yourself and others in your social circle engage in social service activities?
I don't think it's necessary to do civic minded activities with a like minded group. I think that's a nice tag on that atheists feel warm and fuzzy about. Then there is the assumption of actual change, or that these civic activisms will have any real effect or for any real purpose. Sure, goals may be reached, but a rat has a goal too: hit the feeder bar for another pellet.
Sure, you feel good for helping others, but this seems illusory. We feel good for doing things, but the effect of those things is negligible.
I still don't know what to place to find "meaning" for my life. I have some goals that I can do, but I still don't think these will add meaning to my life, since I have made goals like this before.
For instance, I set out the goal to write several novels, and I have achieved those goals. I still have goals in place to write more novels. I have done historically what is prescribed to do now, yet I still feel confounded when asked "What specific steps will you take to gain a sense of meaning and purpose in life? "
What have I learned? To put carrots in front of myself and try to get them. Where am I going? I don't know, apparently that's all I have to do to gain meaning. Life may be a journey, not a destination, but it is still a good idea to have a destination or else you might as well walk in circles, metaphorically speaking.
This science based quest for meaning in life just seems to be a business model designed to make you feel good. I'll agree that this is a great way to slow people down from committing suicide, however, we might come to see our daily actions and interactions as dictated primarily by the force of habit. We cease to see ourselves as free agents and come to see ourselves almost as machine-like drones. From this perspective, all our actions, desires, and reasons seem absurd and pointless. The feeling of absurdity is closely linked to the feeling that life is meaningless.
So far I've been told to develop a set of habits (rituals), based on variations of Buddhist teachings, and religious simulation.
Much of this course also seems to be a willful act of "eluding". This act of eluding most frequently manifests itself as hope. By hoping for another life, or hoping to find some meaning in this life, we put off facing the consequences of the absurd, of the meaninglessness of life.
Maybe I'm wrong in all this. I just am calling it like I see it.
“What kind of a life do you want?”
The third lesson is a video available on youtube. My first issue isn't that it's 38 minutes, its the “Lets take a minute to think about what the meaning of life is”....and then waiting for an actual minute. I can hit pause on this and do the same thing. Making me wait for it when I am the only person paying attention....I came up with an answer (I'm not sharing, too bad) right away.
Then there was a testimonial half way through.
Then there was a group discussion.
And after all that the prompting to build community by commenting on someones post regarding the lesson.
And again there is a quiz, which I can take as many times as I want.
Machine: Maybe I'm too jaded, but I really didn't get much out of this that I haven't read for myself. At least for the first ten to fifteen minutes. I felt there was too much emphasis on religion, as though it were the standard that had to be met. If this is science based, shouldn't irreligious groups have greater emphasis? Other societies were brought up, slightly. Also, the video didn't have annotations, or links to the sources cited, which meant I had to go back through and watch again just to get the right Sartre quote, or others. But the links at the bottom of the video all lead back to the Intentional Insights website.
I'll keep working on this, and do the tasks.
This time, however, I didn't read the quiz past the opening the sentence “The science suggests....” I let Doppelganger take the test....
Most of the video felt like it was loaded with rhetoric, or anecdotal evidence, and after a while I had the feeling that this was some kind of stepping stone activity. That by providing people with this science based system, they could step from religion into a happy atheism. I don't have a problem with people deciding if they believe, or if they absolutely do not believe, but I felt like this was a reverse sham. As though the creator of this course said “Hey, lets figure out how evangelists draw people into the church, and do the same thing but draw people away from the church, but make it seem like we aren't biased.”
It's brilliant, really. It also makes me want to start my own cult. I'm also wondering if the price I “donated” for the course was calculated so that it wouldn't be cost prohibitive, but would make me stick to it so I wouldn't waste that $5.
At the 16:25 time mark they had had testimonials on how effective the course was, and how it was all evidence based. I don't accept this when I watch infomercials, let alone a workshop.
Machine may frown on this statement, but most of the people taking this course were physically unattractive, or old. And I think that is a telling sign; what stage in your life are you going to need meaning the most? The beginning when all possibility is ahead of you, or the end when death is near?
There is another quiz at the end of the lesson, and once again I am reminded at how I can only provide the right answers to move on.
I became suspicious when I saw each sentence started with “The science suggests...”. I chose true without even reading it, because I knew that's the answer they wanted.
Why "Failed Daily"?
Because I fail to update daily.