This thought provoking quote functions as the cinematic spinal chord of Alex Garland’s new film Ex Machina. Similar to his movies 28 Days Later and Sunshine, Garland presumes that when men amputate their moral compass in order to achieve some greater good, abuse is the inevitable result. Majestic naturescapes of weather-washed granite mountains give way to the dark and cold dungeon like facility of Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) top-secret lab.
The protagonist, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), has won a contest, enabling him to be the first person to see and interact with Nathan’s newest creation, a human-like robot named Eva (Alicia Vikander) who has been imbued with artificial intelligence.
As a work of Science Fiction, Ex Machina plays with our hopes and fears through the lens of scientific accomplishment. While mankind has grown or evolved technologically, our moral growth has not kept pace with the evolution of our scientific accomplishments. If men are tempted to view human women as objects, Ex Machina unflinchingly shows us what men will do to women who cannot bleed. The result is not promising, or easy to watch.
The film raises questions about morality and creation. Caleb remarks that Nathan’s newest accomplishment is nothing short of miraculous. In fact, he mentions that this accomplishment is categorically different from the types of things that mortal men accomplish. It is obvious that Nathan is a genius, but the real question is whether or not he is a benevolent genius. Nathan has proven that he has an unmatched ability to create human-like robots. But should Nathan have made this endeavor his primary vocation? Or more importantly, should man create just because he can, or are there inventions that should remain unrealized for the good of humanity?
After witnessing the first test of his atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer exclaimed, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” There is no room for naiveté in the world of the masochistic and the machine. Nathan’s character embodies the toll that working solely with machines and sound bytes can have on a man of flesh and bone. Is he more like Mozart or Jackson Pollack, or closer to a Dr. Frankenstein? Is there a fundamental difference between humans and machines? Nathan talks about human beings as if they are things that are merely programmed. Is this true? Is the God that fashioned us the distant god of Deism, did he create us simply to satisfy his own hubris? Nathan points out that A.I. will be our extinction, the next step in evolution if you will, that is built upon the backs of the human race. Yet he deftly applies his hand to the trade of fashioning humanity’s coffin in the form of beautiful, feminine, cold machines.
One thing is for certain: the machines that Nathan creates here are not human. Sherry Turkle argues in her book, Alone Together, Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, that while sociable robots may fool us, they are indeed objects, not subjects. She posits, “Those who can only deal with others as part objects are highly vulnerable to the seductions of a robot companion. Those who succumb will be stranded in relationships that are only about one person” (Turkle 56). But for a consumeristic individual with a low tolerance for human imperfection, or sin, a girlfriend with artificial everything might seem like a treasure to be bought at any price.
We are easily fooled and even desire to be fooled. Like the protagonist, we want to be loved, believed in and needed. But while these robots cannot offer what we desire, the uncreated creator, and what he creates can. There’s a reason why the greatest commandment is to love God and others above all else. It’s because if you love anything created by the hands of man more than human beings and their benevolent creator, your quest will end in despair.
But, Ava, the soulless android Nathan creates, upon seeing God’s creation, smiles, laughs and takes it all in, like breathing for the first time. That breath is a testament to the goodness of God’s creation in contrast to our feeble attempts at pretending that we are even in the same category as God. We are sub-creators, not co-creators. In our attempts to usurp God, we inevitably become smaller, meaner, and dare I say, something sub-human.
To those who rail against this fact, they are destined to be forever disheartened by their attempts at creating perfection. But those of us who can see the glory, not only in His creation, but in such works of art like this film, or the Jackson Pollack painting within it, we can truly enjoy and sit in wonder, not overwhelmed by despair, but genuine joy. In Ex Machina, it appears that all that man creates is destined to be flawed to some degree. For us, perfection cannot be created, but it is waiting to be received.