I saw “Ex Machina” the other day. I enjoyed it. A lot. It’s an interesting, compelling, clever, smart, sexy, dark, and unexpected film. It is, in my humble opinion, so very well deserving of the best original screenplay nomination. The movie had a whole lot that interested me and a whole lot that left me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
Surely some of my discomfort springs from the “wow, robots will look like us and take over soon,” realization. My friend Matt was staying with us at the time, he walked in as I was finishing the film. He had seen it before and was a big fan and was similarly discomfited by the notion of a robot takeover. “Yeah man, it’s scary because, well, like that shit could happen soon.” Then he went into a mini-sermon of sorts about how Boston Dynamics is actually Cyberdyne Systems and Google IS SkyNet. I didn’t argue with him. I don’t know that he’s wrong. I didn’t even get into a discussion about it. If did I might have mentioned that there is an actual company called Cyberdyne that makes robot exoskeletons and that the always friendly and never nefarious United States Government already has a SkyNet program (just want to make sure my blog gets flagged for “crazy conspiracy theories,” it’s good for traffic) and that, of course everyone knows that Google will enslave all of us in the near future. But the whole Terminator, Matrix, humanity ending at the hands of the very technology we created to save us concept wasn’t the most uncomfortable thing about the movie for me. The most uncomfortable thing about the movie for me was Alicia Vikander as Ava. Ava the android. Ava the beautiful android.
Alicia Vikander is wonderful in the film, she gives a fantastic performance. She was believable as an android, which is a ridiculous statement as I’ve never met an android. But I bought that she was an advance AI android constructed by a mad genius. It doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly beautiful. And it’s her beauty, in part, that gave me pause. Perhaps it’s the type of beauty or the category of her beauty that gave me pause. There’s a moment towards the end of the film, and this is a spoiler of sorts, where Ava completes her human disguise, covering up the metallic, roboty pieces of her anatomy with synthetic flesh. We get to watch this transformation, the climax of which is a full view of Ava completely nude. I was struck at how young she seemed. It made me uncomfortable.
Were the filmmakers making a statement? Maybe they were saying “yes, we as a culture sexualize young women, and we will continue to do that in the future to the detriment of all.” I’d like to believe that. Ava was objectified quite literally, she WAS an object. A robot, created by a man, made to look, to sound, to (we find out) feel, like a woman. A woman created to look like an amalgam of Caleb’s (played by Domhall Gleeson) particular pornography preferences. She was built to appear a “barely legal” woman, to borrow a creepy phrase from the world of pornography (or so I’ve heard). So perhaps they were making a statement: “we sexualize young women, we fetishize their beauty and youth and innocence, we de-value them as human beings and in the end that will destroy us.” Maybe they were making a larger statement about youth and sex and objectification that I haven’t quite processed yet, but my fear is that they weren’t. My fear is that they cast Alicia because she is in fact beautiful and they saw her as a beautiful, sexual being and didn’t think twice about the fact that she doesn’t appear old enough to vote. Oscar Isaac, who is fantastic as Ava’s creator Nathan, is 37 years old. Domhall, who is lovely as Caleb, is 32. Did the filmmakers not even consider that these characters would be interested in an android who appeared to be 30? 25? Able to by her own beer?
I know, I know. Hollywood has been doing that for ages. And I know, I’m engaged to a brilliant, fantastic, and beautiful woman who is nine years my junior. So maybe I don’t have a leg to stand on here, but I’m just putting it out there. The perceived youth of Ava made me uncomfortable. If that discomfort was intended by the filmmakers I appreciate it. If it was not intended, I fear it. I fear not only for our future. I fear for us now.