Saturday, November 21, 2015

instead of seeing this as a deception

(Before we get into this sixth and final day with Ex Machina, a note on something I will not be talking about:

There's a line of music that plays as Caleb first enters the house, and again as Ava is leaving it, that reminds me of the theme to Jurassic Park. My son, who knows music better than I do, listened to it and said something along the lines of, if they wanted to reference Jurassic Park, they would not have put the line in a different key. Me--I still think it sounds like it. Plus, both films involve locations accessed by helicopter...

Seriously, the structure is the same in that regard. Brief intro (Ex Machina's being far briefer than Jurassic Park's), then helicopter ride to the location, a location where a scientist has perhaps taken things a bit too far, eventually endangering lives (note: in the novel of Jurassic Park Hammond dies in the end just as Nathan dies here), then the survivor(s) leave(s) on a helicopter. As a movie blogger, I gotta say, I think the musical allusion is not only there but deliberate.

But, I could be wrong.)

Now, to let Caleb off the hook a little, particularly in regards to Kyoko, today's argument is simple: Caleb is a robot, too.

Let us start from the beginning, the briefest of introductory scenes before Caleb is off to Nathan's home/lab. We know nothing of Caleb here. He is a cypher, this scene perhaps just as much a ruse (LEVEL 2) as the contest was (LEVEL 1) within the film. Caleb is supposed to believe that he is an employee of Nathan's who has won a contest. Sure, he'll figure out the contest was a lie eventually, but what matters is that there is some reason for him to be there. But, this scene serves no particular purpose as far as the film goes. Sure, maybe you could make an argument about how the opening scene and the closing scene relate to one another--

the opening scene has Caleb at a computer, indoors, isolated from the world as a programmer would be while the closing scene has Ava outdoors, near crowds of people

--but neither one serves much purpose in relation to the plot, and they barely matter to the story. Now, arguably, the final scene is important for its philosphical references; that is, as Nathan has told Ava about "Mary in the Black and White Room" which is a pasted over version of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave." The latter involves shadows as one's reference to reality... Simplified version, in case you don't know it: guy lives in a cave, tied so that he cannot move, he faces shadows on a wall projected by light (and figures) behind him. His impression of the world is formed from these shadows, and he has no sense of the actual world. In that final sequence, we get a notable shot--

--shadows on the ground, the world inverted. Ava was a shadow of a person, but now she has become something more. Caleb, in a different sort of way--assuming he is human, for the moment--is also just a shadow of a person. He is awkward in his social interactions, he is a computer programmer, and I think we can easily imagine that he has few to no friends. He is not outgoing, not a particularly social animal.

See, unless that is what he is supposed to be. Consider: designing an AI that moves graceful and is attractive--that is the obvious choice. The challenge: make an AI that is deliberately awkward so he seems more human. It is an extension of what I was saying yesterday regarding the racial angle with Kyoko or the real-life example of Ernest Goostman.

(And, I'm nearly 700 words in already and I have not even pressed play on the movie. Too much to say, I suppose.)

So, let us look at the evidence as it comes...

Imagine, if you will, that the moment this film begins, Caleb has only just been activated. Or maybe he was embedded at the company a while back to help solidify his own programmed (LEVEL 1) impression that he is human.

Now, the film just as easily could have begun with, say, the helicopter landing, or--for a little mystery--Caleb coming upon the house while walking through the woods, inexplicably in a suit.

For that matter, why is he wearing a suit? Did no one tell him at all where he was going? He thinks he won a contest, not that he is going for a job interview.

(Sidenote: just googled to be sure and found two other people who have compared this film to Jurassic Park. jamiembrown even does a good beat-for-beat thing.)

(Sidesidenote: I should never google during the film on my last day with it. I don't need new sources at this point. I've already used and abused numerous sources this week. Today, it is supposed to be just me.)

Awkwardness: Caleb seems lost because no one is in the first room of the house. I guess he expected a greeting party. Oh, and he bumps into a chair.

Caleb turns down food and drink.

Awkwardness: "Was it a good party?" I am fairly sure Caleb would not know a good party if the partygoers tied him to a chair and danced around him.

Nathan's dialogue is simple, except when he finds a tangent, something philosophical perhaps. Initially, we can chalk up his dialogic awkwardness to, as Nathan puts it, him being "freaked out." And, maybe Caleb does actually find his room "cozy." But, Nathan wants him to find it claustrophobic.

Caleb gets defensive when Nathan assumes his discomfort. He also gets defensive when Caleb misquotes him about Nathan being a god.

I am reminded of Blade Runner of course, Rachael (Sean Young). She is a replicant but does not know it. So, depending on how you view the film, is Deckard (Harrison Ford). Easy way to setup your AI to pass a Turing Test might just be to not let the AI know a) that there is a test or b) that he/she is the subject of it, and certainly not c) that he/she is an AI.

Awkwardness: Caleb is actually stiffer than Ava when they first meet. He also sits straighter than Nathan.

As for the Turing Test--if Caleb is an AI then he is the subject. Thus, the test is a proper one, with the robot hidden from the examiner. Except, Ava claims to be able to tell when he is lying. This is not a problem, however, if she is lying to manipulate the conversation. (Same with her claims about noticing Caleb's microexpressions. She may see them only as much as anybody does.)

Caleb has trouble sleeping. We see him awake late at night several times. But, we only see him actually (seemingly) asleep once--when Kyoko comes to wake him.

Ava knows when she is being watched. When Caleb first watches her on the monitor in his room, she triggers a power cut and turns toward the camera just as it goes dark. Later, she looks at the camera a few other times as well, when she is being watched. Now, maybe she turns and looks at the cameras all the time just to be creepy in those moments that Caleb might be looking, but the movie implies (LEVEL 2) something more deliberate. Caleb assumes correctly when Nathan is watching, though he does guess prematurely that Nathan is watching during the cuts.

Does Caleb know the movie Ghostbusters? Nathan does not give him enough time to respond, but maybe that film just is not in his programmed memories.

The best evidence for Caleb being human (or Nathan's programming of Caleb being rather amazing) is perhaps all of Caleb's filler words, his many ums and ahs.

Arguably, Kyoko's clumsiness is a sign that--bodily, at least--she is more advanced than Ava. Her dancing, too. Caleb bumping into that chair before--advanced programming. If you want your AI to pass for human, you do not make it perfect. You give it flaws.

Plus, whether or not Caleb is literally a robot matters less than the implication that maybe it does not matter at all. I mean, a proper AI, if it can pass for human (and especially if it does not know that it is not human)--is it not then human? If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...

And, we get to the LEVEL 3 programming conversation (the one I quoted a couple days ago):

What's your type? You know what, don't even answer that. Let's say it's black chicks. Okay, that's your thing. For the sake of argument, that's your thing, okay? Why is that your thing? Because you did a detailed analysis of all racial types and you cross-referenced that analysis with a points-based system? No. You're just attracted to black chicks. A consequence of accumulated external stimuli that you probably didn't even register as they registered with you.

Nathan's point stands, of course. If Caleb walks like an AI and talks like an AI...

He still may have, yes, done a "detailed analysis of all racial types and... cross-referenced that analysis with a points-based system." It has just taken him 26 years to do so. Nathan offers this phrasing as a flippant counter to sociocultural programming when it actually explains the sociocultural programming. Nature and Nurture get together and twist you one way or another and you do that analysis over time and figure out what it is that you like. To mix metaphors with the next scene, you learn to see the color of attraction rather than the black and white of objective observation.

Speaking of which, the black and white imagining is Caleb's. The editing clearly juxtaposes the black and white scene of he and Ava kissing with him in the shower. He is imagining it. He is seeing in black and white.

Nathan seems intelligent enough to notice that Caleb is a) not drinking as much as he is or b) not getting as drunk as he is. B is easy to explain if Caleb is an AI and maybe cannot get drunk. A only makes sense if, also, Caleb is an AI. Or maybe Nathan just drinks himself to sleep every day. Being a god may be stressful and exhausting.

Caleb does not seem to find it that strange that Kyoko is lying around naked.

Consider: if Caleb is a more advanced model than Ava--that "next model" that Nathan mentions--then maybe he has blood, and the transparent mesh that surrounds Ava's arm is not in his arm. If he does not cut down to the bone, he may not find any machinery. Or, maybe he found machinery. The interesting thing is that the rest of the film could still happen just as it does regardless of what Caleb found or did not find. Caleb cannot tell Ava--since he assumes Nathan is watching--that he has discovered what he is. And, the one room where he might expect to have privacy away from the CCTV is in his bathroom.

(Nothing to do with today's topic, but I just realized I have not had the opportunity to mention it--there is a mistake of timing on the last day in this film. Caleb arranges for Ava to trigger a power cut at 10:00pm. But, that power cut happens in the scene that follows directly after he and Nathan talking in the kitchen when it is daytime and Ava's escape that follows does not take until morning.... Ah, I realize this may not be a mistake at all but an indication that it is summer and they are quite far north in Norway. Could be white nights. I am sure there is something romantic and poetic about setting this film during white nights--

but then I bother to doublecheck and see that at least once we see an establishing shot of the exterior of the house in darkness, so maybe the mistake is specifying 10 o'clock at night. See:

--but then it also gets me to thinking about the movie White Nights and I imagine Ava's rejection of her place in Nathan's home as a political defection. When you get to the feminist angle, it is a political defection. She and Kyoko both decide not to be beholden to Nathan and his locked doors.)

The good news, if Caleb is also an AI--he probably will not starve to death. Although I am not sure how he is powered. Probably not the induction plates, or he would have been clued into his AI-edness earlier. Unless he just does not notice when he recharges... Those keycards--I have seen more than one person complain on IMDb about those not being as advanced as the rest of the house. But, maybe those cards exist specifically so that AI Caleb will put his hand up to those panels by the doors a few times a day. He might be getting charged without knowing it.

But ultimately, it does not matter if Caleb is or is not a robot created by Nathan. The alternative is that he is a robot created by nature (and nurture). He can still only escape his programming (and the walls imposed around him) only inasmuch as that programming allows for it. And, that is what Ex Machina is really about. Not whether or not we might make an AI that can pass for human but that humans are so set in our programmed ways that we might far too easily pass for AI. Nathan does not choose to be a misogynist jerk. Not completely, anyway. The world has lifted him up onto that "god" pedestal because of his programming genius. The world has decided that men are better than women. The world has decided that rich men are better than poor men. Such programming is deep in the LEVEL 3 code of each of us. And, it takes a lot of time and a whole lot of effort to change it. Caleb may be entirely human, but he is still programmed to respond to a pretty face that deigns to talk to (let alone flirt with) him.

This movie is both horribly cynical about such programming and pleasantly optimistic. Caleb tries to get past some of his programming to help Ava, and Ava (presumably) gets past her own programming to get out into the world... except that Nathan specifically set up the situation for her to be his "rat in a maze" and Caleb is her way out. Perhaps, in context of the reality of the film, Ava never goes beyond her programming at all. She just succeeds at doing what Nathan wants her to do. In that regard, maybe the film's ending is not so feminist, after all. It is just a confirmation that even the struggles we have are part of our programming.

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