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Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015) - Twelve Post-viewing Prompts

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  • Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015) - Twelve Post-viewing Prompts

    1. One of the measures of Ava's subjectivity proposed within the film was whether or not Ava was capable of being attracted to Caleb (of experiencing the feelings that such attraction—if actual—would entail). The end would suggest that either she was not, or that she was capable, but was also capable of merely pretending that she was attracted to him when in fact she wasn't. Does the film resolve which it is? Clearly, Ava did not actually care for or about Caleb (she left him trapped in Nathan's home/research facility, presumably to die), but does the film answer the larger question of her capabilities for actual feelings of attraction or caring?

    2. How does the film make use of the Turing test? Is it only Ava that is subjected to that test, or might we regard the film as prompting its audience to consider and question the subjectivity or humanity of other characters in the film, or perhaps even their own presumed humanity? Note that Caleb at one point seems to suspect that he may actually be a machine, cutting into his arm to see what lay beneath,

    3. If Caleb is the protagonist of the film, the character with which we are meant to identify, what does the film suggest we share with him? What does the film suggest about our situation inasmuch as it is conditioned by people like Nathan, or at least by companies like Blue Book (a clear fictional analogue to Google), for example? Are we in ways sharing his fate, that is of being denied subjectivity (that for which we value things such as privacy), or even left for dead, by technology of our own crafting?

    4. How does the film make use of the “Mary’s Room” thought experiment, in which a person, who has precise understanding of the nature of color but no actual experience of it, is trapped in a black and white room and then released into the color-filled world such that she could actually feel what it is like to see color? Is Ava able only to understand the world but not to actually experience it? Is her intelligence, based upon a search engine, then not real consciousness? Are we, through increasing dependence upon technologically mediated understanding, effectively putting ourselves into something like a Mary’s Room?

    5. Ava acknowledges that she is a machine, and notes “strange” qualities about herself (she did not need to acquire language) and her situation (she can, without legal or perhaps even moral recourse, be "turned off" by another person), yet still clearly identifies herself as a person. How might that identification condition how she experiences the way she is recognized—regarded as an object of study and subjected to testing—by Nathan and Caleb, the other “persons” in the film with which she interacts? How does that experience perhaps determine her behavior at the end—killing Nathan and leaving Caleb to die?

    6. As the end credits of Ex Machina roll, has Ava passed the Turing test for you? Did your view of her subjectivity change through the film? If so, upon what basis? How did she perhaps share traits with Nathan, her creator? If, at the end, you do not regard her as a subject, is Nathan a subject?

    7. How does the film regard gender as an aspect of subjectivity? Caleb experiences his gender as just part of who he is, whereas Nathan insists that it is “programmed"—by nature or nurture, a consequence of external stimuli— and, in any case, part (along with sexuality organized around it) of what provides for subjectivity, motivating interaction which may be a precondition of subjectivity. Does the film as a whole endorse Nathan’s views? Should it? Must sexuality be gendered, and is it essential to subjectivity, such that without it we'd have no motive at all for subjectifying interaction?

    8. How does Nathan think of himself as a god? Is he? Though he thinks he can create life, and suggests to Caleb that, because he was selected by him rather than by chance, he should regard himself as “chosen”, has he taken on the essential functions of a god? What might be missing?

    9. If Nathan is not a god, is he even a subject? He indicates that the challenge of subjectivity is to not act "automatically." Yet, when questioned about why he is doing what he is doing (creating Ava and presumably “models” beyond her), he disavows any real agency, claiming that the development of AI is inevitable and the only meaningful question in respect to it is when, not why.

    10. How does Nathan view ordinary humans? He has largely isolated himself from them and when he suspects that Caleb feels bad for Ava (presuming she will be shut down as a new model is developed to replace her), indicates that Caleb ought to (instead) feel bad for himself—that AI will “look back on” humans (presuming they will have at some time wholly replaced us) as mere “upright apes”. Does his position toward human beings inform his work (running Blue Book and creating AI)? Does it ultimately cost him his own subjectivity in so far as he regards everyone around him as mere tools for his own purposes, thereby rendering them incapable, in his eyes at least, of recognizing him as a subject?

    11. It is pretty clear that Nathan is a misogynist (i.e. he exhibits a profound contempt for women). Does the film share in, or promote, sexism, if not perhaps even misogyny as well? Does it, for example, appeal to and encourage an objectifying, misogynistic, male gaze, even as it condemns it by associating it with Nathan (whom we are presumably meant to dislike)? Note the scenes of dismembered female bodies in cabinets, the fact that all female characters are created by Nathan, all exhibit physical characteristics promoted as ideal by a mass media that objectifies women, and are all displayed for viewers at one point or another in the nude. Note also, that Caleb, the protagonist of the film with whom we are meant to identify, admits to viewing pornography, which many feminist critics argue reduces women to mere body parts for predominantly male viewers, in sufficient quantity to have a "profile".

    12. Nathan's apparent motive for confining Ava shifts throughout the film. First, it seems its purpose is merely to present her as an object of secret scientific study--by him and, after his arrival, by Caleb as well. Later Nathan reveals that Ava's confinement is rather part of a different and disguised Turing test (in which he, not Caleb, was the human participant), seeking to determine whether Ava was capable of a more strategic intelligence than prior "models", of manipulating Caleb into letting her out, rather than trying to force her way out. The end of the film, however, might suggest that he may also have confined her out of the fear that she would be dangerous if released. Clearly she was in fact dangerous to both Nathan and Caleb, but does the film indicate whether or not she will be a danger to other people upon her arrival in populated society? Recall that Nathan had supposed that "strong AI" would one day replace humans in the world. Did Nathan keep Ava confined in order to protect humanity, believing that she was not capable of actual concern for others?
    Last edited by Steven Brence; 02-29-2016, 01:51 AM.