Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Breaking Habits

One of the things about spending an emmence amount of time video gaming is the need to keep in balanced with other activities.  I am fond of saying that work is the least interesting thing I do every day because it is the truth.  However, the trick is living up to that and sadly that takes more than just minecraft or whatever MMO has recently caught my eye.  And so here we are.  YAY!

I am going to spend some time tonight talking about Ex Machina.  Ex Machina is a movie that broke my heart as soon as I heard about it.  I saw the headline and I immediatly thought it was going to be an adaptation of the comic.  Man of Steel was still fairly fresh on my mind and I think an adaptation of Ex Machina would make for a wonderful companion movie.  Maybe not.  Instead we got sexy robot movie and as a whole it is quite a good movie.

However, weeks later I find myself ever so slightly disapointed by it.  The reason is that the ending was to abrupt.  As a result I can't tell if it flubbed the ending or if the ending was brilliant.  Now while I am very much a fan of ambiguous cinema I would of liked a little bit more to go on.

So it is time for slaps and tickles!

Lets start with the slaps.
  It flubbed the ending hard.  When Ava locks Caleb in a room we are left with a role reversal.  She is in control of the situation and, for the first time, the master of her own fate.  So she ditches Caleb and goes to her intersection in a city to see a cross section of humanity for the first time.  The idea of the movie is that she needs to pass the Turing test by becoming indistinguishable from a human and what is more human that stepping over another human to achieve your goals right?
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the movie is told almost entierely through Caleb's point of view.  The only time we see Ava is when he sees her.  The only time she speaks is when he is listening.  While a decent amount of the movie is dedicated towards getting to know her better and to judge her ability to think independtly of her initial programing.  However, throughout the movie we don't get to know her very well at all.  We know that she wants to escape and to see and experience new people.  We know that the programer man she lives with is dangerously close to going off of his rocker but that's it.  Once Caleb discovers this one fact about her the movie becomes fixated on that fact.  It becomes the axis which the movie revolves around.  Now philisophically the movie wanders off and gives the viewer some ideas to mull over, like is the test a double blind and is Caleb really the AI.  The color test about the woman who lives in the black and white room but knows everything there is to know about color, even the need for sexuality.  Nathan claims that he gave Ava a sexuality to give her the chance to experience love yet I don't buy that explanation or his answer.  It is something worth thinking about and it is a subject for another post at another time.  Yet while the movie gives the viewer plenty of time to busy themselves with a dizzying array of questions that could keep me happy for months.  It manages, at the same time, to leave the inner workings and or motivations of Eva a mystery.

She wants to escape but to what end?  Whatever that end was she sacrificed Caleb without a moments hesitation.  In addition what is sad about Caleb's sacrifice is that he is directly responciple for her escape.  To have her sacrifice him at the last moment seems almost absentminded of her.  There wasn't even a struggle.  She just politely asked him to wait in the room which he gladly did before she locked the door.  She sentenced him to death, we don't know why, and I felt myself let down by the whole thing.

I grew up with Star Trek TNG which by extension means I grew up with Data.  Or rather I grew up with Data in a more meaningful way than I grew up with Skynet.  So I am over the whole AI's be bad thing.  I just am.  It is why I have such a deep abiding love of Her.  Her almost immeadiatly side steps the idea of the turing test by letting Samantha pick her own name, giving her a sense of humor, prefrences, and a personality.  It happens quickly because, like me, Her is over the whole AIs give us the willies thing and is ready and willing to move on.  God blessem.  As such Ex Machina is a brilliant movie marred by an exceptionally boring status quo like ending.  The machine sacks the human so it can be free.  Well done.

HOWEVER, what if the ending is brilliant.  I mean super brilliant.

Okay to make it brilliant we have to visit two different parts of the movie.  The first part is something I mentioned earlier Ava's sexuality.  The second thing we have to talk about is when Nathan reveals to Caleb the actual point of the test.  He calls Ava a rat in a maze.  She only has one way out and that is Caleb.  To get Caleb to help her she is going to need to use all sorts of tools like empathy and creativity.  She learns to cut off the power and together the two of them are able to concoct a plan.  The word concoct looks stupid.  Anyway, she escapes and blah blah blah.  BUT WAIT lets go back to her sexuality.  There are two reasons for a sexuality.  One is love because love is AWESOME.  The other is reproduction and this is where it gets interesting.

Ava is smart.  I don't know how smart but we'll go with pretty smart.  The point being is that she is in a building and she is free.  She knows there are others like her, as she met them.  I am pretty sure she found the workshop.  Even if she didn't she could reasonably deduce that there is one present in the building.  She also has all of Nathan's notes.  And she has Caleb.  In short she has the ability to replicate.  She has the ability to grow, learn, and understand herself better.  She has the opportunity, if she so desired, to preform the Turing test on Caleb as she now has him captive.  Instead she bolts.  This would mean she fails her test.

Ava is presented with her captivity as a problem.  She solves her problem but to what end?  What does she hope to achieve?  Where will she go?  How will she maintain herself?  Where will she get money?  An id?  Once she sees her cross walk what will she do next?  As a machine none of this matters.  She had one goal.  Escape.  Which she achieves with ruthless efficiency.  On that note seriously Nathan?  Next time you make a robot make it so they can't harm you what the fuck.  Mad scientist 101.

Anywho the movie gives the view a lot of space to think about knowledge, identity, and consciousness.  We emphasize with Ava because Nathan is a dick and because if we were captured we would like to be free.  However, we want to be free to go back to our lives.  Ava pays lipservice to the idea of wanting to learn more about humanity but she could of done that with Caleb.  In fact her sitting down and starting to test Caleb would be just as fitting of an end to the movie as her leaving him.  More of a fitting end because it would show that she has some of her own ideas and priorities beyond that task that was originally assigned to her.

Okay this feels muddled let me put it another way.  The only time we learn anything about Ava is through Caleb and in a couple of occasions we learn things second hand through Nathan.  Nathan is where we learn about her desire to escape.  As soon as Ava is free she makes a beeline for the door.  She kills Nathan mostly because he is in the way.  She doesn't even acknowledge the asian girl and just like that she's gone.  In the version of the movie where I think the ending is terrible this is because we aren't given enough information to determine her motivations.  HOWEVER, if we do take the motivation the movie claims she has and apply it then all the sudden she is acting less like an organism that would be concerned about its continued survival and its ability to propagate its species and more about the singular goal that was instilled in her at birth.

Then the movie becomes much more interesting.

Anyway I've been typing awhile and I'm going to leave it here.