Ex Machina: Artificial Intelligence or Imperfect Gods?



“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.”

“Ex Machina” is quite cognizant of Hollywood’s predisposition to incorporate memorable lines into its films for creative reasons or otherwise more financially motivated ones. (Does “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” come to mind? Oh, no? How about “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore?”) In spirit with the industry and, of course “Ex Machina,” I decided to throw in a line of my own from Proverbs 16:2. I admit I have my own monotheistic leanings, but I nevertheless feel it brings the film to a full 360-degree circle.

Ex Machina is one of the best sci-fi films I have seen. The ultimate measure of how well any film holds up under both critical and the general movie-goers’ reception is whether or not it resonates with them on a personal, emotional and logically satisfying level. Ex Machina does. The entire movie with its many original renditions of conventions plucked from the genres of mystery, sci-fi, drama and monster-in-a-house is much more complex than your typical run-of-the-mill version of cat-and-mouse. Though the ending is a bit trippy and shocking, it is indeed the logical conclusion of the film’s central dramatic question that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) asks of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) at one point during the movie: what purpose does AI (short for artificial intelligence) serve? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. Frankly I don’t think it needs one just as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” leaves its meaning open to interpretation. But there are some particularly attractive ideas that the movie ponders.

(Spoiler) Nathan dies. His death is particularly unfortunate and was not exactly expected. Considering his uber-intelligence and seemingly ubiquitous understanding of both people and machines it comes as a surprise because his death follows a scene in which he very convincingly led us to believe he was very much in control of Caleb and Ava (Alicia Vikander). But he failed to see the imminence of his own death that ironically came by the hand of one of his own creations. Maybe it was hubris? Perhaps Nathan had one too many drinks and it impaired his ability to think? Pretty dubious if you ask me. I took his death to mean that not only do immoral men of every stripe always receive their comeuppance but that also when men are left to their vices they consistently and unfailingly undermine and bring about the undoing of themselves and the people closest to them. Humanity is connected by a common umbilical cord, and every decision we make affects another person. This is the very reason why the Dalai Lama advocates compassion more than anything. If you look closely at Jesus’ teachings, He also believes in treating others as they would like to be treated. The problem is that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Admittedly Nathan’s life looks a lot more like one of hard work and dedication. But in those very candid moments in which he opens up to Caleb, his responses are always vapid and picayune, contributing very little to Caleb’s search for truth. Nathan personifies the existentialism and disillusionment that has come to personify our times. Bored with life and vaguely believing in the importance of his work he decides to build AI to serve his own bestial needs, rather than simply going out and finding a nice woman or better yet making friends. Wealth and material possession can never take the place of personal fulfillment and discovering one’s friends and family. Simplicity and contentment is not enough for men like Nathan and only in the end do they realize at what price their vanity and avarice has cost them.


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