1. Wim Wenders wrote this essay in 1986 as a first treatment for Wings of Desire, according to The Criterion Collection, and this essay is online at
downloaded on August 14, 2015. [return to page 1]
2. Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965), reproduced in Gregg Rickman, Ed., The Science Fiction Film Reader (New York: Limelight Editions 2004)
3. “Alex Garland of ‘Ex Machina’ Talks About Artificial Intelligence,” The New York Times, April 22, 2015,
downloaded on October 10, 2015.
4. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD.
5. Times, October 10, 2015,
downloaded on Ocober 10, 2015.
6. For a more lengthy discussion of Her, see Robert Alpert, “The Artificial Intelligence of Her,” Jump Cut, No. 56, Winter 2014—2015,
http://ejumpcut.org/currentissue/alpertHer/index.html, downloaded on October 10, 2015.
7. “Director Alex Garland Explains Why Ex Machina Is So Disturbingly Sexy” by Charlie Jane Anders, April 17, 2015, io9 We Come From the Future, http://io9.com/director-alex-garland-explains-why-ex-machina
downloaded on October 10, 2015 (“Garland Explains Why Ex Machina Is So Disturbingly Sexy”).
9. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD.
10. Mary Shelly, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (New York: Everyman's Library 1992), 48. Interestingly, Shelly chooses to expresses her viewpoint through her narrator Victor Frankenstein.
11. Maureen Dowd in “Beware Our Mind Children”, April 25, 2015, The New York Times,
discusses this aspect of the film, concluding that women are unnecessary what with “Ava around. Even without hair on her head or flesh on her legs, Ava has enough allure and cunning to become a classic film noir robot vixen. Despite being a plastic and mesh gizmo locked in a glass cell, she can enmesh men with frightening ease.”
-beware-our-mind-children.html, downloaded on October 10, 2015,
She also writes, “Critics are divided over whether ‘Ex Machina’ is a feminist fable or misogynistic nightmare. Like Quentin Tarantino with violence, Garland has it both ways: He offers a mocking meditation on the male obsession with man-pleasing female sex robots while showing off an array of man-pleasing female sex robots.”
12. Given the logic that underlies the game of chess, chess is a frequent motif in movies about artificial intelligence. See, for example, Timmie and his father in The Invisible Boy (1957), David Bowman and HAL in 2001 (1968) and Dr. Tyrell and Sebastian/Roy in Blade Runner (1982).
13. Nathan’s defeat resides, in part, in his arrogance at not anticipating that Ava would discover in Caleb the very qualities that had caused Nathan to recruit Caleb in the first place, such as his loneliness and “moral compass”.
14. In describing this card system, Nathan tells Caleb how it makes things simpler, since Caleb knows immediately which areas he may visit and which areas are out of bounds. Nathan could as easily have been describing the benefits of totalitarianism in which decision-making rests in the hands of the few.
15. Ava’s testing of Caleb for lies is later replayed with Nathan. He asks that she return to his room, and she, in turn, asks whether he will let her out. He replies, “Yes.” Having witnessed her administering the earlier test with Caleb (and his admitted lies) as well as having been privy to Nathan’s conversation with Caleb about Ava’s likely fate, we know that Nathan, too, is now lying to Ava.
16. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature “Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina (session 3)” to the Lionsgate DVD.
17. Developed and discussed in 1950 by the British computer scientist Alan Turing in his essay “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950),
downloaded on October 10, 2015, the test posits that AI is potentially indistinguishable from human intelligence.Turing, in effect, claims that machines can think insofar as the problem can be described as an “imitation game.”
Many have questioned the adequacy of Turing’s test, arguing that “correct” answers fail to take into account whether AI understands the questions posed or simply represents, as Turing effectively acknowledges, simply an imitation of human behavior. Thus, while computers may use syntactic (form) rules to manipulate symbol strings, they have no understanding of semantics (meaning). According to this line of argument against the adequacy of the Turing Test, the human mind consists of biological processes that are non-algorithmic, and computers can at best only simulate these biological processes.[return to page 2]
18. The antecedents for this “sexual pleasure” model can be found in robot Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Pris in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). In contrast, however, to Ava in Ex Machina, in Metropolis the real Maria, a spiritual, religious figure, acts as a counterbalance to robot Maria, an erotic, seductive figure, and in Blade Runner Pris, a “pleasure model” for humans, also serves as the romantic love figure for Roy, also an android or “replicant”.
19. Humphrey Bogart as Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock summarized the male insistence on control and the combination of male love for and fear of women in his exchange with femme fatale ‘Dusty’ Chandler (Lizabeth Scott) in Dead Reckoning (1947):
Captain Warren 'Rip' Murdock: ‘You know, the trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful. I've been thinking: women ought to come capsule-sized, about four inches high. When a man goes out for an evening, he just puts her in his pocket and takes her along with him, and that way he knows exactly where she is. He gets to his favorite restaurant, he puts her on the table and lets her run around among the coffee cups while he swaps a few lies with his pals...without danger of interruption. And when it comes that time of the evening when he wants her full-sized and beautiful, he just waves his hand and there she is, full-sized. But if she starts to interrupt, he just shrinks her back to pocket-size and puts her away.”
Coral 'Dusty' Chandler: “I understand. What you're saying is: women are made to be loved.”
Captain Warren 'Rip' Murdock: Is that what I'm saying?
Coral 'Dusty' Chandler: “Yes, it's a confession. A woman may drive you out of your mind, but you wouldn't trust her, and because you couldn't put her in your pocket, you get all mixed up.”
This egotistical combination of love and fear is hardly limited to film noir, as evidenced by Lauren Bacall’s autobiographical description of Bogart himself:
“Bogie had a joke dream—that a woman should be able to fit into a man’s pocket. He’d take her out, talk to her, let her stand on the palm of his hand, dance on a table; when she got out of order—back in the pocket. And she could be made life-size when desired. And despite how wonderful he was, there were times when I would have liked to have liked to do the same thing to him.”
Lauren Bacall, Myself and Then Some (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1979), 176.
20. Of course, given the several decades that separate these two movies, their stories and conclusions, not surprisingly, differ. Thus, Bree Daniels in Klute becomes a prostitute in NYC in order to gain some control over her life in which a woman’s looks too often determine her fate in a male controlled world. Moreover, Klute’s title character, John Klute (Donald Sutherland), plays Daniel’s “prince charming”, eventually rescuing her from the seedy intentions of other men, such as Daniels’ pimp, and returning with her at the movie’s end to the suburban ideal of Pennsylvania, where she can presumably settle down and become a housewife.
21. The movie underscores this similarity in many ways. For example, just as one of Nathan’s artificial beings had sought to escape by cracking the glass wall to her room, so, too, Caleb will crack the mirror to his room in a moment of despair (and then slice his arm with a razor in an effort to discover whether he is human or merely another artificially being created by Nathan).
22. Science fiction movies about artificial intelligence often equate lying and deceit with what it means to human. Thus, for example, Robbie the Robot cannot lie in The Invisible Boy (1957), and HAL, a computer, is humanized by virtue of his learning to lie from the human scientists in 2001 (1968). Likewise, the android Andrew (Robin Williams) in Bicentennial Man (1997) is humanized when he acknowledges that he has lied to the woman with whom he has fallen in love.
23. The magic of Nathan’s facility is underscored by the helicopter pilot who tells Caleb that in order to find the facility he must “follow the river,” evoking Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz (1939) who was likewise instructed to follow the yellow brick road in order to find the Land of Oz. It is also underscored by Caleb’s comment after his first session with Ava that the experience was like “through the looking glass,” an appropriate comment given that the movie is filled with images of Nathan, Caleb and Ava continually reflected upon glass surfaces.
24. It’s A Wonderful Life is not without its dark, film noir aspects. In speaking this line, George Bailey anticipates how he will doom himself to the small town life that he has consistently sought, without success, to escape. Moreover, as U.S. critic Andrew Sarris observed, the nightmare vision of Pottersville that the angel Clarence enables Bailey to experience, the world that would not have existed but for Bailey’s birth, is the urban, film noir world that Frank Capra saw following World War II. Pottersville documented the industrialism that had, in fact, overshadowed small town, rural America.
25. Daniel Mendelsohn in his “The Robots Are Winning!” June 4, 2015, The New Yorker Review of Books,
downloaded on October 10, 2015, notes that Ava
“pilfers the skin and clothes from discarded earlier models of female robots, which she finds inside the closets. All of them, amusingly, have the names of porn stars: Jasmine, Jade, Amber. Why does the creator create? Because he’s horny.”
26. See Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Beacon Press: Boston, MA. 1964).
27. One of the most notorious examples in movies of the creature’s hatred for its creator is Blade Runner‘s replicant Roy who kills his maker, Dr. Tyrell. The Frankenstein novel likewise enacts that drama. And the Biblical roots of this story date back to Satan, as depicted, for example, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667).
28. Garland has observed that, like all fathers or parents, Nathan wants, however to be loved by his child, Ava. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD. Interestingly, Garland has also repeatedly expressed concern with the film’s ethical question as to whether and when the Nathan must acknowledge Ava’s self-awareness and hence must free her. Extending further the parental analogy, Garland’s concern then becomes the parent’s concern—and need—to free the child if the grown child is to leave adolescence and become an adult.
29. B.F. Skinner, the writer of such books as Walden Two (1948) and About Behaviorism (1974), spoke at Yale University in or around 1969 and made this comment to the author in criticizing that university’s developmental psychology department that he mocked for what he identified as its belief in the “human soul.”
30. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD.
31. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature “Through the Looking Glass: Making Ex Machina (sessions 1, 2 and 4)” to the Lionsgate DVD.
32. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD.
33. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature “Behind the Scenes Vignettes: Becoming Ava.”
34. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature “Behind the Scenes Vignettes: Meet Ava.”
35. Andrew O’Hehir, “Dark secrets of the sex robot: Alex Garland talks A.I., consciousness and why ‘the gender stuff’ of ‘Ex Machina’ is only one part of the movie’s big idea—The writer-director of the provocative sci-fi hit ‘Ex Machina’ on why the movie's sexualized A.I. is its real star,” Salon, April 22, 2015, accessed on October 10, 2015,
36. In O’Hehir, “Dark Secrets,” Garland has elaborated:
“I wouldn’t say that the response [to the movie’s ending] is exactly gender-neutral, but it’s gender non-specific inasmuch as it’s not the case that women will go one way and men another. I think that’s embedded into one of the questions of the film, because as we said earlier, gender might be something that’s conferred. It might be something that’s contained. If it’s contained, then it could be contained in a physical, external form or it could be contained in consciousness. That would mean there is a male consciousness and a female consciousness, in which case I would say: Demonstrate it! One demonstration might be that a man would think one way and a woman would think another, but in this illustration —and I think in many others —that’s not the case and it’s up to the individual. That’s where the gender-specific argument about consciousness, as I see it, gets pretty weak.”
37. “If you’re talking about human interactions, you also are going to be talking about gender interactions and power structures, power balances, games we play. Those things may have nothing to do with sex, or may sometimes have to do with sex but other times with power hierarchies and structures and any number of different things.” O’Hehir, “Dark Secrets.”
38. O’Hehir, “Dark Secrets.” Garland has stated:
“There are political issues embedded within this, and for some people that can lead to exactly the opposite of what my intention was. So I feel that I have to draw attention to the subjective way in which narratives and the themes are received, and responded to.”
39. “Alex Garland of ‘Ex Machina’ Talks About Artificial Intelligence,” The New York Times, April 22, 2015,
downloaded on October 10, 2015.
40. Alex Garland’s commentary to the Special Feature SXSW Q & A with Cast and Crew of March 15, 2015, to the Lionsgate DVD.
41. O’Hehir, “Dark Secrets.”
42. Spielberg famously took over the production of AI: Artificial Intelligence from Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
43. Frederick Jameson in Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1984), Chapter 1 (“The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”)(Duke University Press 1991), discusses at length how late capitalism is ahistorical, emphasizing space over time. Not surprisingly, therefore, when asked by Caleb how old she is, Ava, a creation of late capitalism, answers “one”, unable to specify whether “one day” or “one year.” She embodies timelessness.
44. Ex Machina follows the British-made The Machine (2013) in several respects. The latter focuses upon an artificially created being also named Ava (Caity Lotz), not her human, male counterpart, Vincent (Toby Stephens), who acknowledges that Ava represents the future. Ava, too, defeats (with the assistance of a female cyborg) the humans, though in this case the wholly male British Ministry of Defense that had sought only to militarize cyborgs and other advanced forms of artificial intelligence. In the movie’s ending Ava, like Ava in Ex Machina, takes sensuous pleasure in the rising dawn as well as in Vincent’s young daughter whom she has saved in the form of a brain scan.
45. Yeats’ 1919 poem “The Second Coming” is reproduced online at numerous sites including
http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html and http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172062,
both accessed on October 10, 2015
46. In the context of its optimism about the future of artificial intelligence, the film’s title ironically evokes Sherry Turkle’s critique of how technology, including robots, has changed us:
“[A]lthough historically robots provoked anxieties about technology out of control, these days they are more likely to represent the reassuring idea that in a world of problems, science will offer solutions. Robots have become a twenty-first century deus ex machine. Putting hope in robots expresses an enduring technological optimism, a belief that as other things go wrong, science will go right.”
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together (New York: Basic Books 2011), 11.