The way I see it there are two main camps that Hollywood robots fall into: Robots created to be tools and robots created to be our metaphorical children. Then there’s this Venn diagram over top of that because there’s two more categories: Robots who want to destroy humans and robots who wish they were humans (you know, Pinocchio style).
Examples: The Terminator robots were created as a military tool and they want to destroy all humans. Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit series is also a robot created as a military tool, but silly Johnny 5 just wants to be treated as a person. Data from Star Trek the Next Generation is a robot created for no particular purpose except to make his builder feel like a god, but all Data wants is to become human (which is good because let’s be honest, in a battle between Data and humanity we all know who would win). Conversely Lore, Data’s brother, created under the same auspices, is just an evil pile of garbage who wants to murder and control others through deception and intimidation.
So we have four overlapping groups of robots. After watching Ex Machina, I’m pretty sure that the robot featured in this film falls dead center in this diagram. She was created to make her designer feel the heady rush of godhood, but she may also have been built to be a sex toy. She wants to be a human, but she’ll kill to get what she wants.
I’m not sure if I liked Ex Machina. I enjoyed watching it, of that we can be certain. If you want to watch a thriller with “hot” robots in it, go ahead and check it out. But after the credits rolled I began to ask some serious questions. These serious questions might have spoilers so tread onward with care dear reader (by which I mean my mom. Hi mom!)
The premise of the movie is this: A billionaire recluse named Nathan has created a series of robots in secret at his house, and he has chosen one of his employees, Caleb, to come out and do a Turing test. That is, rich Nathan wants ordinary Caleb to decide if this robot actually possesses consciousness.
ALSO! The robot is sort of hot? As the days of testing move forward Caleb not only starts to view the robot as a real person, he also starts to view the robot as a hottie who he wants to fuck. Sorry for being crude but that’s the vibe Caleb puts out there. I mean he keeps thinking about her while he’s in the shower. He watches video of her while he’s in bed. Basically he fantasizes about her constantly. And when rich Nathan explains to Caleb that the robot does have a hole between its legs filled with sensors a.k.a. a robot vagina, a wistful look comes over Caleb’s face.
There are other stakes on the line too. Rich Nathan seems to be hiding all kinds of skulduggery, some of which he tends to give away while black out drunk. The hot robot is but the most recent version in a long series of hot robots. Rich Nathan seems to enjoy fucking the hot robots. Rich Nathan will kill the newest hot robot so that his next hot robot will be even better.
What is poor smitten Caleb to do? Save the robot of course! There’s a sort of thrilling battle of wits and finally Caleb manages to free the hot robot. Finally Caleb will get some sweet robot love! There seems to be no other consideration in his mind. He doesn’t believe for an instant that this creature is a freakin’ robot who probably doesn’t really care about him. It just wants its freedom. It doesn’t want to fuck.
This movie was directed by Alex Garland who has written a number of other interesting sci-fi movies, including 28 Days Later and Sunshine. I’m actually a big fan of 28 Days Later, which I believe to be the hall mark of fast-zombie movies (if you didn’t know, there’s two kinds of zombies, lightening fast or slow and shambling). I used to have a copy of 28 Days Later on DVD and I remember watching a behind the scenes on it where they discussed the different endings they wrote before finally settling on the actual ending (I will say this: I think they chose right), but they had to rework it a few times because the first draft’s ending wasn’t believable. The movie Sunshine was also a really great movie up until the ending, where it sort of fell apart (in my opinion!).
Ex Machina falls into this camp as well. The ending wasn’t bad, but it did highlight a plot hole, and that plot hole was this: Why wasn’t Caleb afraid of the robot? I would have been.