Ex Machina, Art and Fair Play

This post is both a review of Ex Machina and a discussion about art.  I won’t be revealing any of the actual plot of the movie, but much of what I say will likely affect how you watch the film, so I’ll start with a non-spoiler review.  Do I recommend Ex Machina?  If you want to see an artistic interesting movie, yes.  If you want to enjoy yourself, then I have my reservations.  (Spoilers start now).

The thing about Ex Machina is that it’s not what you think it is.  Many reviews use adjectives such as ‘smart’ to describe the movie, and it is a ‘smart’ movie, but not for the reasons that it leads you to believe.  The movie, I would say, presents itself as having something intelligent to say about artificial intelligence and soul and the human condition.  However, I think the actual intelligence of the movie is entirely in the realm of art: the movie plays a game with you to make you think it is one thing, while in reality it is another.  I went into the movie feeling quite smug because I thought I knew what I was seeing and I was prematurely proud of this fact.  However, it turns out I’d dived head first after a red herring.  The movie tricked me, good and proper.  The question that I was left with was, did I enjoy being tricked?  I might sound like a bit of a sore loser here, but I did not.  

I remember one of my writing instructors once telling me that part of good storytelling is getting your audience to anticipate the story.  At the time I was somewhat skeptical.  In relation to Ex Machina, however, his advice makes sense to me.  However, I do not think his advice necessarily pertained to making good art, but to making enjoyable art.  People (I) enjoy feeling smart, and catering to this desire is a good way to sell art.  Art that acts in opposition to its audience is not necessarily bad, however.  Sometimes it is essential to a piece of art that it opposes its audience, such as art used in activism.  Here is an example of what I mean: link.

However, I am not entirely sure whether Ex Machina is entitled to pull the kind of bait and switch that it did, even if its goal was to act in opposition to the audience in the way I described.  The problem is that a movie that tries to pull off a deception like Ex Machina did has to do so fairly – it has to give clues for the audience to miss, and it has to be internally consistent.  Otherwise, the trick is really a cheat.  I’d have to watch the movie again, but at the end of Ex Machina I was left feeling like the movie had cheated.

So, Ex Machina: interesting movie, I kind of enjoyed it but the ending left me unsettled.

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