05 June 2021

Wired: “Ex Machina has a Serious Fembot Problem”

Ex Machina poster

While interviewing Garland for a magazine piece, I asked him about the roles of men and women in his film; his response was that Ava is not a woman, she is literally genderless. Despite using female pronouns, he said, the things that would define gender in a man and a woman, she lacks them, except in external terms. … I’m not even sure consciousness itself has a gender.

In a way, Garland is right; pure intelligence wouldn’t have a gender any more than it would have a race. But to say that and then place that consciousness into a body that it will immediately recognize its likeness as female negates that point. If Ava has truly been educated about the human race, then she knows her face and form appeal to certain segments of the population. But even thornier is the fact that Ava falls squarely into so many of the tropes of women in film. She’s a femme fatale, a seductress posing as a damsel in distress, using her wiles to get Caleb to save her from Nathan and his Dr.-Frankenstein-with-tech-money quest to build a perfect woman. (Women: So much better when you can construct them out of bespoke parts and switch them off if they’re not working properly, amirite?)

Angela Watercutter

I have recently watched Ex Machina as it became available on Netflix, and I have to say, it has way bigger issues than fembots. This article captures them reasonably well, but at the end of the day, I found the movie utterly boring, lacking in action and original ideas. To call it ‘thought-provoking’ is a massive overstatement and I seriously cannot comprehend why so many people are so enthusiastic about this movie – then again, I had the same reaction to Her. Man building docile wife is a concept as old as ancient Greece at least, if we count the myth of Pygmalion, though I doubt the director had that in mind when he made the movie. Human-created artificial intelligence rebelling against its maker is a common SF trope at this point, so no points for originality here either.

The story in Ex Machina is essentially a stereotypical love triangle, where the wife wants to escape an abusive spouse and seduces a naïve young man to pit him against her husband, only to abandon him immediately afterwards. The two male figures are equally clichéd representations of Silicon Valley software engineers: Nathan the caricature of a Google founders, complete with eccentric tastes, reclusiveness, and an unhealthy attitude towards women; and Caleb the shy, but brilliant nerd, socially inept to the point that he can be swiftly manipulated in turn by Nathan with flattery and by Ava with flirting and innuendo.

To make matters worse, the characters lean so much into their stereotypes that they stop being convincing. Is Nathan that skilled to program an AGI from scratch without any outside help?! Is Caleb so susceptible, so desperate for female (for any) companionship, that he is genuinely convinced a talking metal statue has a crush on him, after a couple of superficial conversations? Or is he that insecure that he subconsciously does not believe any real women would take interest in him, so he takes refuge into these imagined feelings for and from Ava? Is Ava actually that astute to play the two men against each other while secretly plotting her escape? Well, maybe this part is the least far-fetched, compared to Caleb’s cluelessness and Nathan’s arrogance.

For me, this movie was a complete waste of time. It you genuinely want to watch something with smart concepts around AI and consciousness and a gripping story, I wholly recommend the first season of Westworld.

My rating: 2.0

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