With Ex Machina making its Blu-ray debut this week, we’re digging into the sci-fi film by teasing out connections to other works that echo the film’s own sensibility—examining a few ingredients in the film’s pop-cultural cocktail. The film stars Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson—who will meet again in the upcoming Star Wars movie—as a reclusive tech genius and his young employee. Isaac has built an incredibly lifelike artificial intelligence, played by Alicia Vikander, and wants Gleeson to help him test the frighteningly advanced technology. But Isaac’s true motives are hard to discern, and as Gleeson gets deeper into the test, his disorientation deepens too. Here are some forebears, both obvious and not, to the film, out now on Blu-ray—the first Blu-ray to be released with DTS-X sound.
Steven Spielberg’s vision—filtered through the ideas of Stanley Kubrick—is one of the clearest, scariest presentations of artificial intelligence in film history. A little boy is created to be indistinguishable from a real boy, up to and including his undying love for his “mother.”
In this classic sci-fi thriller—based on the 1972 book of the same name—the women of Stepford are slowly stripped of their humanity and turned into robots that serve the town’s men. They’re artificially unintelligent, but also servile sex machines.
In Stanley Kubrick’s classic space-creeper, we meet one of the first onscreen artificial intelligences that gets stronger and scarier as the story progresses. As an entity that knows its own power, it’s scary even without a body.
Any screenwriter knows that the best billionaires are creepy, reclusive billionaires, and this Sean Connery 007 film helped solidify the type. The plot revolves around Willard Whyte, a Las Vegas tycoon along the lines of Howard Hughes, whose empire is being hijacked to create a doomsday satellite. Whyte proves to be an unwitting patsy—unlike Ex Machina’s Nathan Bateman, who does his own dirty work.
Why do so many computer brains decide that the best thing for the human race is to kill all humans? The WOPR computer—a.k.a. Joshua—in the 1983 classic WarGames gets so wrapped up in trying to figure out humanity that it attempts to start a global thermonuclear war.
V.I.C.I. in the ‘80s sitcom Small Wonder is quite as technically advanced as Ava in Ex Machina, though both are incredibly lifelike, and both have mechanical parts where you might not expect them. At least Ava has the fashion sense not to dress in a pinafore.
One of the things that made the T-800 model stand out so much—not in a good way—was its creepy skin. And that it bled. And it had an Austrian accent. None of these make for a thoroughly convincing A.I.
Sometimes it’s about advancing science for the good of men—or moving things along to the point where men become gods. Sometimes it’s about using science to create lifelike sex dolls. Sometimes it’s in between.
Creating an artificial intelligence is in many ways like resurrecting dead tissue—it’s all about doing the impossible, of creating new consciousness without actually having a child. Mary Shelley saw the pitfalls of playing God nearly 200 years ago, and her story has had a massive ripple effect since.