". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Film - Ex Machina - Spoiler Free

Ex Machina, an sf film that has been touted more than once as the best film to be released so far in 2015, opened here some weeks before last week's national roll-out. I saw it soon after PBS began airing Wolf Hall, with which Ex Machina has more than a little in common with Henry VIII's quest for the perfect woman/queen/wife, who all turn into disappointments, sooner, usually, than later, with the exception of Jane Seymour, who quickly provided the king with a son and then removes herself by selflessly dying.

Though Ex Machina's Nathan, king of technology, has a different coloring, his build resembles Henry VIII
Caleb, with his employer, the genius god Nathan. Nathan partly constructed Ava the AI via Calebs porn preferences, which he suveilled and mined, in order to make Ava's Turing Test as complex as possible.
However, Ex Machina and Wolf Hall share another quality, which is male rivals who jostle and jar to prove themselves the smartest, most powerful guy in the room. Wolf Hall's King Henry VIII prided himself on his learning as well as his majesty, and Ex Machina's Nathan, who sets in motion all the action that is the film, as founder-coder of the most successful search engine, the most wealthy man in the world, is arguably much more powerful than a king, and as capricious, entitledly vicious and cruel as any king. Nathan wrote that code when he was 13, and now is obsessed with his AI project. Nathan's brought his younger employee, Caleb, to his Norwegian Fortress of Solitude to perform the Turing Test on Ava (Eve) his latest AI prototype. Is she the AI singularity or not?  Caleb is a different type than Nathan, but he too is very, very smart.

Nathan and Caleb are performing their nerds' version of this.
Part of the film is about the outsmarting game Nathan and Caleb play on each other.

It's also about being God. Nathan, who is an obnoxious though very smart egoist, is enthralled by Caleb calling him God, though Caleb repeatedly corrects his employer with what he actually said, which was that the ability to create actual artificial intelligence would be "like a god, not God." As Caleb is all about the semantics of everything, mechanical and human, this is an essential difference of definition, but Nathan is going with God being himself, thank you, because he's smarter than everyone else.

Which brings us to the title of the film, Ex Machina, from Deus ex Machina, drama's god from the machine . . . .

Does the capacity to create a fully, independently functional, self-aware, artificial consciousness of free will make the man God?  Then we must think, "God is dead," and has been dead a long time before the present of this film.  Our tech-obsessed society killed God, putting the mechanically built God in humanity's God's place.

It is a commonplace that (male) humanity kills its father-God.  But what have females done with fathers and God, other than serve?

Two AIs.  One talks, the other doesn't. One survives, the other doesn't.  It matters not whether the AI has the capacity to talk when they both are programmed to be female.  Like Lucifer, Eve will rebel.
Was it Nathan or Caleb who proved himself the smartest guy in the room?  The answer is irrelevant.  What matters is the next question: what happens now?

Beyond, or below, God, there are many question thrown up by Ex Machina, via the very smart scripting and photography, particularly about what makes up gender, at least of what qualifies as the feminine and the female -- and even, as we see by the still above, ethnicity. These are the questions most critics and reviewers have focused on, though a quick google-through will show they don't all agree on what those questions about men and women are, or what they signify.

Ex Machina, so say the critics, is a movie about ideas, in the best traditions of science fiction, as well as a magnificently constructed and photographed film. So it is, and thus  I went to see Ex Machina again this week. It was a sparsely attended late morning screening; all the audience with the exception of two elderly out-of-town hetero couples and me, were white men between the ages of 20-something and mid-30's.  In the meantime mothers and fathers of all colors and heritages and ages were streaming into the theater down the corridor, young kids in tow, to see Avengers: Age of Ultron.  If anyone were to ask,  I'd suggest instead of Ultron,  Ex Machina, anytime -- if the questioner is older than 11.


Foxessa said...
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Foxessa said...

The movies Her, Lucy, Under the Skin (incidentally all three featuring Scarlett Johansson as the female disturbance of the Force) and the television series, Orphan Black, are an interesting contemporary cluster of dramatic screen releases, to which Ex Machina belongs. Why these particular dramas, why now?

Despite having I'm not sure titles such as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Let the Right One In belong with the above title though, because they are out-and-out vampires, whereas Lucy is a mutation and Under The Skin's central figure is an alien, by which the 'feminine' and the 'female' are under scrutiny.

Foxessa said...

I'm going to be watching HER again very soon (in between indexing, surely one of the most horrid jobs involved with the writing-and publishing of a book!), to check again the conclusions I came to about what the film was saying about men's expectations of entitlement to the perfect woman, when they themselves are probably less than 4's on their own scale of desireability. Of course, it's not only men in HER who are convinced of their entitlement to the hottest and most successful partner, no matter how mediocre they themselves are, but the focus is on the lead who is male.

The differences between HER and MACHINA are more and less subtle. But what the two have in common is striking, because it's the very smartness of the script, and how the writer-director gets to have things both ways -- exploiting the sexualized feminine -- even, as with HER, not having a body of the primary feminine present at all -- while negating it in favor of the feminine's own agency of action.

It's difficult not to think of all these films as in dialogue with each other, even rather knowingly by their creators.

Foxessa said...

Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer girlfriend and Buffy bots should be considered as well as the girlfriend bot in Serenity - Firefly.