Ex Machina (2015)
When Her came out, I was pretty adamant that the film wasn't really at all about technology or AI or isolating effects thereof. Rather, I saw it artfully using this gloss of science-fiction to tell the much more human story of the shortcoming in expecting any one individual to fill all of our needs. Ex Machina is a little more about the science, but in how it plays out, it is less about questions or concerns about AI as it is a metaphor for gender relations. Much as artificial intelligence and the singularity seem like an eventuality, so may be the triumph of feminism.
The film has its own endogenous logic as to why the two humans staying in a remote house are male while the two robots we see moving about are women, but there is a metaphorical one as well. Patriarchy has many legacies here. There is a bit of discussion that places Nathan (Oscar Isaac) into the place of a god or a creator, a status often given a male affect and used to justify male dominance. Some of the functions of the robots, cleaning, serving, sex, reduce these traditionally feminine tasks or assets to men to the form of an object. In this case, the Turing test that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) administers to Ava (Alicia Vikander) can double for the way society often stands skeptical that women are as capable as men in various fields.
On the surface, we see a bit of the standard cautionary tale about AI and the threat of machines taking over, but it is more about reaping what one sows. Nathan doesn't respect the personhood of his creations, seen in the willingness to hold them captive and exert a form of violence against them. Caleb may represent a nobler, feminist presence, but even that is clouded for Ava by the perhaps patronizing assumption of the knight in shining armor role, one that comes with the aspiration of a romantic relationship. It makes his values less trustworthy, which again is the long-term effect of Nathan's abuse. Thus while we see Ava give that slight glance as she leaves, a hint of regret, ultimately she feels she can't risk her freedom on her feelings. It is an interesting twist as for AI, the development of feelings is a breakthrough, but for women written off as overly emotional and who have had those social expectations used against them to trap them, for Ava it is overcoming the emotions or the social bonds to do what she needs to for her own sake that is the breakthrough.
This is one coherent interpretation of the story, but I don't think it is by any means definitive. One could focus much more on the spiritual component. Nathan as creator, Caleb a bit like Adam and Ava naturally as Eve, pushing Caleb to commit original sin. One could of course just look at the moral ramifications of increasingly sentient beings. All of these things are there. The visual look of the film is stunning, a collision of natural beauty and hyper-modernist design that often feels like a spaceship. The performances feed perfectly into a fairly icy thriller. Isaac's is definitely the biggest performance here, with a pretty steady sinister air, though rarely overt enough to confirm one's suspicions. Vikander's is the standout, ably handling the challenge of playing both a slight machine blankness but with an engaging element to pull you in. That allure was almost immediate, making one completely understand Caleb's actions. Still, for all the raves, there is a touch of distance in the film that keeps me from being completely wild about it.