*No machines were harmed in the making of this review
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.