When my boyfriend suggested we watch Ex Machina, describing it as an ‘artificial-intelligence thriller’, I was a bit like, meh. But then he said, ‘Wait – it’s actually a feminist artificial-intelligence thriller’ – and it turns out the addition of that word is all it really takes to convince me to watch a film.*
With a cast of four characters and just one location, the film’s simple premise takes minutes to be laid out: Caleb, a coder at a huge Google kind of company, wins a competition to stay a week at the CEO’s vast, secluded estate, and is subsequently invited to ‘test’ what might be the world’s first genuinely artificially intelligent robot. From the get-go it’s clear that this god-like act of creation is going to cause some problems.
I was glad to find that the feminist part of the film – which I thought might require some careful contemplation to uncover – is actually right there on the surface and entwined with the film’s central topic of creation. It’s not a side note, or one interpretation, it’s the central matter. So, when a male tech giant decides to create an artificially intelligent robot, he of course chooses to create a beautiful fem-bot, complete with perky metal boobs and, we find out, vagina (‘so if you have sex with her, she’ll enjoy it’).
You also don’t need to have read The Female Eunuch in order to pick up on the significance of certain symbolic moments. The film is full of these simple, but powerful, metaphors: Ava living in a glass box; Ava constructing herself, applying wig, dress, even her own skin – hiding every bit of her metallic body as if shamed. Even the contrast between Ava’s too-human face and her metallic torso seems to point towards the disconnect society continues to create between women and their own bodies. The message that the film is trying to get across is by no means new to us – no new ground is broken – and this could perhaps be a cause for disappointment, but actually, I found the feminist message all the more shocking for being spelt out all over again in this refreshing way. It was breathtaking in its obviousness.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ex Machina, and that is saying something because we happened to be watching it halfway through a 14-hour coach journey to France, on an iPad Mini wedged at an uncomfortable angle beneath our faces. Instead of projecting a load of catastrophic dystopian what-ifs onto our screen for us to wonder at, as you might expect from a sci-fi movie, Ex Machina holds up a mirror to our current society – it says, look, this isn’t sci-fi. This is what is happening now.
It’s something we often need reminding of.
* I would not however, watch a feminist horror film. Or would I?