Reflecting on Ex Machina: A Sci-Fi Eye Candy Thriller

Originally posted Aug. 2, 2020; Revised Feb. 19, 2022. Contains spoilers.

My brother introduced me to this film. He said it was really good and I should watch it. I did a couple of years later. Unlike my brother, I wasn’t impressed with it because my initial reaction was that I have already known long ago that most women are manipulative confused robots (I hope you can tell I’m being sarcastic). Later on, with more time to process the film, I realized there’s more than meets the eyes. Still, it’s no masterpiece to me. It’s just entertainingly decent.

First, I reviewed this film back in 2020. I was heavily biased against it, sawing it as an attack on women who yearn for freedom and liberation from the traditional role. At the time, I accidentally landed in a YouTube section where men were bashing women calling them damaged goods just because they need to go find themselves by choosing to walk away from a relationship. So, when I watched Ex Machina, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between Ava with real women. What is so wrong with a woman who wants to explore the world after being caged up in a facility as a test subject for so long by an unethical, perverted engineer? It sounds as if she was in an abusive relationship. I had to empty my biases to appreciate what the film tried to communicate and learned that my initial reaction to the film was impaired.

Note: If you have not seen the film, please refer to the synopsis on Wiki to follow along with this article. Thank you.

There are two important points that the plot wants to make in this film: one is Caleb Smith’s instinctive behavior toward Ava (the AI) and the second is controlling her, the source.  Why is Caleb attracted to Ava, knowing she is an AI?  Why does Ava need to get out and experience freedom? Why does she need to go on a date with Caleb to the theatre? The simple answer is data (I cannot imagine what Ava wants to do with data. She is like a search engine gone crazy; I suppose).  Thus, the film attempted to illustrate that technology can be dangerous by comparing it on a relationship level that humans can understand. But to me, it just appeared chauvinistically narrow-minded.

Metamorphically speaking, it succeeded at presenting its ideas by comparing Ava to a typical woman, although I don’t think it was the most effective way to communicate the idea that AI can be dangerous. The intended demographic for this film is straight male viewers. For one, it reiterated that nice guys do finish last. Secondly, robots are alluringly dangerous like beautiful women (the male gaze in the film gives it away). Lastly, the conclusion of the plot implied that in theory, having a beautiful woman by your side is a nice idea until it starts manifesting and spiraling into something out of your control that may cause your death! As the saying goes, if you play with fire, you will get burned. So, what it all boils down to is that the film speaks from a heterosexual man’s fear. And that notion alone makes me feel quite disconnected and less appreciative of the film.

So, this brought me back to my conclusion about the film. It’s a bit chauvinistic. It’s fearful of technology but at the same time drawn to it. It’s a tragic comedy but far from clever (hard not to roll eyes with certain scenes). Hence, that is why I classify the film under Sci-Fi Eye Candy Thriller, according to Halsdoll’s imaginary film dictionary (in other words, I made up the subgenre); and lastly, there’s nothing mind-blowing about a primitive fear that has been known since the dawn of time. We know that humanity is captivated by the beauty of the unknown and yet we foolishly explore it anyway. Yes, nerds may rule the world, but they are not always the wisest.

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