Friday, April 17, 2015

"Ex Machina": You root for geeky Caleb, given a "prize visit" in a secret technology house, as he finds out who he is; he can surely code


Ex Machina”, the new sci-fi house thriller from Alex Garland, poses a rather obvious question.  What if we really can create conscious people from robots, and they start recreating each other.  Will we have a “Brave New World”, Aldous Huxley style, to the horror of George Gilder?
  
But the movie is isolated in a hidden luxury house in Norway, separated by fjords.  The protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) has to be flown in by chopper and hike a stream to the house (rather reminds me of “Old Joy”). He meets the owner, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) who has handpicked him by his search-engine patterns and a belief he has a “moral compass”.
  
You could imagine this going the direction of a gay flick, but that would be another movie.  In fact, Nathan insists people are born programmed the way they are (heterosexual here).  But the women, first of all Ava (Alicia Vikander) really are obviously robots, with designer nylon skin that looks real.
   
The “obvious” question is, who are the men.  Nathan looks too young to have advanced this far, but Mark Zuckerberg was not.  Sporting a wiry beard and buzz cut, he looks over-macho, until you notice the hairlessness of his chest.  There are these little clues around as Caleb settles in.
  
Gleeson plays the part of Caleb with a little more charisma than you usually expect from a geek.  He looks and carries the same body language as the character Shane (Timo Descamps) from “Judas Kiss”, without the problem of being a little spoiled. The other actor who could play this character well is, of course, Jesse Eisenberg (or maybe Mark Zuckerberg himself).  
    
The film is structured into “encounters” with Ava which become troublesome, but not explicit.  Eventually, Caleb has to come to terms with who he is, and who Nathan is, which is something in between. Not trans-gender, but trans-human.  Maybe even alien?  There is dialogue about the Turing Test, but that's not all of it. 
     
I would rather the ending not leave us hanging.  You really do root for Caleb. Note the questions about his early memories, his growing up.  (He wasn't an adult always, was he?)  What if he is an alien?  That's just a slight twist. An alien, brought here through a wormhome, could be a really good person 

The story "The Ocelot the Way He Is" concluding my DADT book introduces a character, Nolan, who resembles Caleb -- pretty much as I imagined the character. Mine has a gay twist, and gets into "national security" as well as isolated communities.  But maybe even my own Ocelot is an alien. 
         
Is this film a warning from Stephen Hawking of the dangers that AI could pose to civilization?

The background music opens with the posthumous B-flat Sonata, which the closing credits mistakenly say is in B-flat minor!
    
  
The official site is here.  The film is distributed by A24 and marketed as an “independent film”, but Universal Pictures is also credited with production by its Wagnerian opening.  Why, then, doesn’t this come from Focus Features?  (or possibly Relativity-Rogue).  I saw the film before a small Friday afternoon crowd at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Va. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Petr Smerkl of scene in northern Norway, maybe a bit like the countryside as the film opens, Create commons Share Alike 3.0 license.  I visited Norway for a week in 1972 (Osla, Bergen, Trondheim, and Narvik). 

Since I mention Timo Descamps as resembling the lead, I wonder how his own sci-fi project "Floating: The Prophecy" is coming along, YouTube video here. He says the project is in development with his father, Luc, a European sci-fi author. 
       
This film has no connection to PBS, but I’ve wanted to link to this story, “Is PBS neglecting its mission by Normal Lear in the NYTimes, as the author feels that PBS has a vital role in independent film finding financing. 




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