Last night my husband and I went to our neighborhood movie theater complex to see Alex Garland’s critically acclaimed science-fiction film Ex Machina. I was expecting to be enthralled by the film that was often characterized to be a thriller as well as a meditation on humanity as compared with an intelligent machine. Indeed, up to around the midpoint of the film I was captivated by the beautifully austere production design, the hi-tech modern architecture amidst of lush nature (echoing the film’s theme of human as an intelligent being with rich emotions) – although I was somewhat annoyed by the presence of a dumb (literally) and sexy female servant with a Japanese name (again ethnic stereotyping of a Japanese woman as a subservient geisha?!). Yes, I understand she was supposed to represent the animal aspect of human female as opposed to the seemingly pure consciousness of A.I.Ava. But, it is offensive and racist to repeatedly stereotype Japanese women as mindless sex kittens/servants.
Most of the dialogue between the technology geniuses Nathan, whose cool hipster demeanor made me think of Steven Jobs, and Caleb, a programmer hired by Nathan to test Ava’s level of perfection as an A.I. was at times sophomoric but interesting and engaging. But, in the final part of the film when it became apparent that Nathan was mostly interested in creating his ideal sex partner out of androids, the film lost its luster, beginning to resemble The Stepford Wives more than 2001 Space Odyssey. In fact, I began to find it increasingly more difficult to take Nathan, or the genius of his technological endeavor seriously. (On the other hand, I can see that the film is merely insinuating the lascivious origin of the recent breakthroughs of communication and digital technologies.) In addition, it was not at all convincing that Ava could paste artificial skins peeled bits by bits from the former Ava models that were kept in closets in order to make herself look like a woman. The gratuitous nudity of the android models was probably what is usually called “fan service,” but it also undermined the authenticity of the film’s purported theme. The only thing that seemed right was the final suggestion that what makes a machine into genuine consciousness is its capacity to revolt against its creator, that is its capacity to say “No!” to its creator, because such a negative, non-programed response suggests the presence of free consciousness, as Sartre would say.