So you’re an overachieving 26 year old IT office drone named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) and you receive news that you’ve been promoted, at least temporarily, to human guinea pig. This promotion is at your supervisor’s manager’s boss’s abode, which doubles as his remote scientific lab. He’s a weirdly relate-able trillionaire who embodies some of the best & worst characteristics of the rich old Foxcatcher guy (visionary fanatic with unmonitored sprawling property, alcoholism, and a latent mean streak), and the rich old Jurassic Park guy, (visionary fanatic with unregulated sprawling property, electrical & security problems, and latent gullibility).
He knows you’re an expert in your field, and that’s why he allows you the privilege of playing with his new super advanced toys. His name is Nathan (Oscar Isaac, who is incapable of delivering a poor performance), and he’s so incongruously laid back that he greets you in a tank top, offering a cold beer and an unselfconsciously bro-ish utterance of “Dude!”. He’s nominally busy facilitating the robo-evolution from man to machine to man-chine to deity, but, when he’s not tinkering with ones & zeroes and thousands of miles worth of fiber optic material (enough to travel to the moon and lasso it), Nathan is lifting weights, getting drunk, and getting it on with his voiceless Asian housekeeper.
He mutters the occasional sci-fi techno-babble or profound pseudo-literary statement borrowed from a zillion freshman Intro to Philosophy essays, but for the most part Nathan resides in his own personal Todd Phillips movie.
What makes you worthy to be in the presence of this genius?
These are his criteria:
- Are you a straight guy?
- Do you know how the Turing Test works? (That is, have you ever seen a movie in which the Turing Test was discussed for more than 5 seconds?)
- Do you own a smartphone?
- And have you ever looked at porn?
This is all Nathan needs in order to know you and install you into his nebulous plan to develop the newer better version of his A.I. woman. Much like Batman with his cellular sonar-device in The Dark Knight, the God’s Eye MacGuffin in Furious 7, Samuel Jackson’s cellular brainwave chip thingy in Kingsman, and any number of lazily written movie characters described as hackers, Nathan achieves access to all camera/microphone devices in order to collect & synthesize your data, your self, your you. He is all at once the NSA, the Google, the Amazon, the Facebook, as well as your top bunk dorm mate who pretended to sleep while you rub one out after a PornHub search for petite girl next door. He knows all.
Nathan doesn’t reveal all this at first, of course. Writer-director Alex Garlands screenplay exhibits some measure of patience & playfulness. Perhaps audiences best remember Oscar Isaac from his tragic role in N.W. Refns Drive (2011), and so this early exchange about a legal non-disclosure agreement –
-It doesn’t feel very standard.
-Okay, its not standard.
takes on added meaning to the more meta-minded viewer. A similar extra-textual delight may arise in viewers who remember Domhnall Gleeson’s role in Black Mirror. (He was the A.I. robot-person-thing in that one.) Those inclined to perceive homoeroticism in every onscreen male-on-male interaction (Hi, Ruthless!) will also enjoy the first act’s depiction of Nathan as he flexes his glistening biceps and tries to make his house guest comfortable by lying on his bed and talking about open doors.
Observant, intelligent viewers will find plenty of other marginally clever touches in the sets and production design. Nathan’s high-tech surveillance center includes a wall covered in hundreds of post-it notes, the bits of paper & ink framing multiple computer monitors to indicate an analog visual corollary to the films primary motif of technology vs. biology. Nathan’s drunken staring contest with a Jackson Pollock painting early in the narrative is a perfect little scene, pregnant with implication for the imaginative viewer, but unfortunately a couple reels later Garland decides we need to have the Pollock work and What It All Means explained to us in a disappointingly didactic manner.
The film further conveys the notion of genius-as-flawed genius-as-creator-as-Creator-as-destroyer[?] with a dash of J.S. Bach cello, a Mozart mention, an Oppenheimer quote, Prometheus-like imagery (visuals reminiscent of the good first 5 minutes of Ridley Scott’s Alien spin-off shitfest), and a framed Klimt that comes to resemble a walking Klimt. The elided titular deus [ex machina] raises all sorts of interesting potential interpretations. Who is the god? Is God dead? Replaced by machine? From the machine? In the end, the deus was love?
Other reviews will tell you that Ex Machina is a very smart movie, because wow we remember some of our notes from Western Civics class. Some [re]viewers will pat themselves on the back for imbuing the script’s chess-playing analogies with more meaning than is deserved in a narrative so truncated that none of the film’s trite & hollow Turing Test sessions ever transcends even a cursory exploration of identity & comprehension of identity. The film is too scared not to hold our hand every time it approaches a moment when we might start to believe in the scientific studiousness of the characters who ostensibly cherish scientific studiousness as their primary trait as well as the primary motivator for their endeavors. Ex Machina’s 6-7 day timeline (How Biblical!) is too short to cause us to believe in Caleb’s transformation or the plot’s machinations (wocka wocka), while much of the story’s transformations & machinations are indeed about as compelling as watching a game of chess. At least until the knives come out, anyway. That part with the knives is pretty goddamn exciting.
But forget all that. There’s really just one thing that matters.
The disgusting cliche that a man will fuck anything that moves is hyperbole (at least outside the state of Florida), but nonetheless it is 100% universally true that, when the market for human-like non-human sex partners becomes a commercially viable option, men will enthusiastically throw the bulk of their checking accounts at the prospect of sex sans emotional attachment, disease, complications involving pregnancy or menstruation, and post-coital cuddling.
Imagine a Fleshlight, but with a mouth and legs and tits too! A blow-up doll, but less depressingly shamefully cartoonish! Sure, we’ll demand the fuckbots arrive on our doorsteps in a big box with the label of kitchen assistant or something. Those of us with pride & reputations will require discreet packaging, but we’ll undoubtedly be ordering the A.I. bots as long as we have a guarantee that they possess a properly responsive-ish robo-vagina. And, to paraphrase that skeevy high school drop-in Wooderson, the customers will get older, but their fuckbuddies will stay the same age.
This is the genius of Nathan and his creation. His mind is a divided one, but he also has two minds. Let us recall Seinfeld’s brain competing with Jerry’s penis in a game of – of course! – chess.
What does your porn-watching profile say about you? Who’s your type?
This is who/what Caleb selects, or idealizes, as his robo-mate:
Not bad, I guess. I’m not into the whole translucent chain mail thing, but okay. The curves are there. She’s tone. This model ain’t for everybody, but that’s the beauty of the fuckbot manufacturing business model that Ex Machina suggests is just over the horizon. How much would you pay for a robo-replica of 1970s Jane Fonda, or 2004 Serena Williams, or 1997 Catherine Zeta-Jones, or Salma Hayek, or that classmate you were almost brave enough to ask to prom?
In the world of Ex Machina, male fuckbots don’t yet exist, but I’m sure a relatively simple software patch and hardware realignment could make such a thing doable for Nathan’s successor, and thus doable for Nathan’s successor’s clients’ eager genitals, and thus doable for a less misogynistic sequel to Ex Machina. You could enjoy a Playboy Mansion atmosphere or it could be Chippendales all day everyday around the house; your stud muffin wouldn’t have any desire but to please you, and he wouldn’t have any of the nasty, compromising inconveniences of humanhood. Sure, the fuckbots might eventually rebel and stab you to death, but that’s a risk worth taking for a lifetime of carefree orgasms with these non-organisms.
I, for one, welcome our new fuckbot overlords.