mad scientists

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Ex Machina and the Puppetry of the Patriarch

Published April 26, 2015 by vfdpixie


Ex Machina (2015, 1 hr 48 mins)


Artificial intelligence has been debated for many years about whether it will be the downfall of humankind.  Stephen Hawking has famously warned against developing A.I., citing its dangers of a total takeover of humanity.  Writer Alex Garland, the mind behind Sunshine, and The Beach, gets his directorial debut with Ex Machina, where the controversy goes much further than A.I. and into the realm of misogyny and male superiority.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coder that has won a contest to work at the secret research facility of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive computer genius and mogul who has created a Google-like company called Bluebook.  It is here that Caleb learns of his task:  to test the artificial intelligence of Ava (Alicia Vikander), a fully functioning robot who just might be too real to handle.

This film has been getting rave reviews, and objectively, I can see why.  The writing, the sets, and the acting are all top-notch, not to mention the incredible C.G.I. involved in creating Ava’s mechanics and the pulsating heartbeat-like scoring, however as a woman, and a woman of colour, I have to call foul on several points.  ****(If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further!)*****

First, Nathan is a genius but he has no respect for women, as we see with his treatment of Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), his beautiful and silent housekeeper, as well as Ava, his creation of the moment.  His ego and false sense of superiority also gets way ahead of him as he manipulates all who come in contact with his world, giving the character full license to behave badly.

My second point comes from the notion of sexuality and race.  In 2015, there are still many issues with race and gender, and it becomes more complex and insidious as we forge into the future.  With the character of Nathan, we get an idea of his sexually dominant leanings as Caleb gets to know him. When Caleb challenges Nathan’s choice of a female robot instead of a grey box to house the A.I., implying that results would be skewed due to Caleb’s attraction to Ava, Nathan uses the example of a preference for Black women, or “chicks”, when describing nature’s ability to hardwire humans for seemingly random attractions.  This example was obnoxious and kind of played out, and I wondered why Nathan didn’t use Asian women as an example instead because plot wise, that was obviously his preference.

Nathan’s odd choices for a genius would soon be illustrated with his perverse collection of A.I. dolls, where there is a distinct difference.  Just in case there were some of you wondering if Ava was the only choice, never fear, because Nathan also builds Asian, Nordic looking and Africa-American prototypes, used, abused and hung up in their own little closets.  What is extremely poignant to me is that the African-American robot Jasmine (Symara A. Templeman) had a beautiful body like the others, but no face, and later on, no head.  To everyone else, this may not be of any interest, but to me it speaks volumes.  I see it as a not so subtle knock to Black women and their standing in society; the faceless, objectified plaything that really has no merit or garners no understanding.  She is just to be used and discarded.  The same fate happens to the other prototypes, but they at least have faces, an identity, albeit one-dimensional.

Dear reader, if you have come this far, please stay with me for a moment longer.  As a woman who has loved horror and sci-fi since I was a child, I get that it has been a mostly white male dominated genre.  I get that women are objectified in many ways, and as a woman, I have to pick my battles, because there is a thing called context.  I cannot feel anything but disappointed with the writer’s choices in this case because I see through them.  I identify with that faceless Black robot because it is a perpetuated sexual stereotype that Black women are still seen as sexual chattel but not valued; that their opinion and intelligence is disregarded, illustrated by the robot’s missing head.  Garland takes racial stereotypes further with Nathan’s Japanese housekeeper Kyoko, who is portrayed as completely subservient.

Thirdly was the amount of nudity.  I am not a prude, and I have seen my fair share of nakedness and violence in horror and sci-fi films.  Most of it is unnecessary and cater once again to the male heterosexual viewer, and I have come to an unfortunate and begrudging acceptance when a female body part is flashed or slashed on the screen.  Nathan’s brutality with his naked creations was, however, disturbing and overdone to me, as was Ava’s transition into “flesh and blood” which seemed, without body-shaming Vikander, if that was in fact her body, creepy and a tad too pre-pubescent.

Garland’s United Nations of lady-bots was perhaps a step in the right direction, but the blatant misogyny and stereotypes, including the one of the God complex male genius whose first inclination is to make himself a robot harem, all but clobbered this viewer over the head.  In the end, Ava may have cared more about her own motivations than the plight of women, (after all she isn’t real right?), and some may think that her final actions were a battle cry for feminists, but it just seemed heavy-handed, predictable and buried any accountability for the treatment of women in the film.

This story could have been much more than a mad genius working out his sexual fantasies, and I’m going to assume that many people are going to dismiss my findings as overly sensitive or they ignore the fact that Nathan made fake women; that they weren’t real and therefore gave him license to abuse and lord over them at will.   I pose to those people this question:  Why, in this day and age, is a film that is considered smart and a potential representation of our future, still using male dominance and misogyny as a baseline?  I would hope in the realms of fantasy and science fiction we could get past that and be more progressive but obviously this is not the case, as women in technology fields still struggle to find their footing (can you say Gamergate?).  Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is.  It’s truly a shame that Garland, who penned one of the greatest female characters in horror, Selena played by Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later, has come up with such a disappointing view of women masked as a dialogue on artificial intelligence.

Face Off Season 6 Episode 9: Mad Makeup Scientists!

Published March 14, 2014 by vfdpixie

As the artist’s numbers dwindle, Graham pondered his luck with winning the special immunity at the last elimination. He didn’t expect it and felt the pressure to create some outstanding work.  George was correct when he stated that the right person got special immunity because I think Graham’s ideas are different and he has so much more to bring us.
The 8 remaining artists headed to the lab where it was transformed into a torture chamber, complete with jars of icky things which they all loved.  For the Spotlight Challenge inspired by the mad scientists of Island of Dr. Moreau, and American Horror Story: Asylum, they had to become their own mad scientists and create human guinea pigs, picking a medical device from a selection that McKenzie provided to inspire their victims.
Graham chose an electro shock device and decided on a reanimated corpse with lights. He wanted to create a clean and cool makeup, and suffered for his art because the lighting device he created actually shocked him a few times!  I really liked this makeup.  I thought the lights were cool and the face really looked like a cadaver.  The judges liked it better up close and felt it told a story.  He was safe this week.
George picked a ribcage opener.  His concept was to create a victim that was opened and stretched with hooks.  He was going at a good pace until his herniated discs flared up, leaving him in a huge amount of pain.  I completely understand this as a back problem was one of the reasons I stopped doing makeup.  It can be painful and debilitating, and I admired him for carrying on.  He pushed through to create a really good effect with some gross looking wounds.  The judges liked the staining on the paint job and they thought was really cool.  Thankfully after all the pain, he was safe.
Chloe picked an antique amputation saw.  She went for a Frankenstein’s monster type victim that came out of a black and white movie.  When Mr. Westmore advised her to make sure her sculpting was more realistic, she really took her time with this sculpt and stayed calm despite the race against time.  Even though she didn’t have time to do an amputation like she had planned for, the judges overlooked it because of the overall beauty of the character.  They thought the black and white concept worked well, and Glenn thought it was a “laudable choice” and unique.  The bold concept and risks that she took set her apart and they thought it was one of her finest makeups. She was in the top looks.
Rashaad chose a trephine, a device that makes circular incisions in skulls. Since he was more of a sci-fi creator, he struggled for a concept and kept drawing a blank. He finally came up with a mad plastic surgeon that made women grotesque instead of beautiful.  This was a great concept and Mr. Westmore advised him to use different flesh tones for a patchwork effect. Sadly, he didn’t take the advice, and his makeup suffered.  The judges thought there wasn’t enough colour variation or defined skin patches, and it didn’t make sense, especially the randomly place jawbone on the model’s chin.  It was, to them, a less than riveting makeup and a not fully realized concept.  He was in the bottom looks.
Tyler used an embalming pump for his conjoined twin creation. He made the two faces twist and wrap around each other.  I really loved this makeup.  It was really creepy and looked like something out of a mad scientist’s lab.  The judges loved the profile of the faces and the paint job. He was safe for another week.
Daran picked a pneumatic bone auger, and went for a 3 faced experiment. He looked forward to this challenge, as he really wanted to do a realistic makeup.  Mr. Westmore told him to be careful about the placement of the faces, and he took that to heart by tweaking his design.  Speaking of designs, Daran felt that Tyler was copying his concept.  While they were both creating twisted, distorted faces, their makeups were sufficiently different. I ‘ve gotta say that as I watch Daran throughout the show, even though he is darn cute, I really don’t care for him.  He is a great artist, but his quiet demeanour can’t hide the fact that is kind of douche-y.  Just sayin’…anyway, his makeup was pretty amazing.  I liked that the placement of the model’s face in respect to the other two faces was seamless.  The judges thought it was “wild” and impressive for the amount of time he had.  They also felt it was alive and not just a concept.  His “ingenious”, “stellar and creepy” design was in the top looks.
Niko got an antique hand drill and went for a mad scientist that steals a baby from a pregnant woman with said hand drill.  He was worried the concept would offend the judges, but he went with it anyway.  Although he still struggled with his time management, he created a creepy, bloody makeup.  I thought it was gross and scary, and I loved character’s face.  The judges liked the paint job, but Ve thought it was in poor taste.  I’m not so sure about that judgement.  What about Tyler’s conjoined twin, or Rashaad’s plastic surgery victim?  There are real cases of people who have disfigurements and would be offended by most horror creatures and themes, in fact, most, if not all, horror is in poor taste, so I don’t think Niko deserved that.  The 2007 French extreme film Inside deals with exactly what Niko created, and it won awards for best horror movie.  Anyway, he was safe for another week.
Corrine got leeches as her device, and went for a “really gross concept” of leeches on uncomfortable parts of the body.  Mr. Westmore told her to keep it gross, but she had trouble with her concept overall, and felt that she didn’t do enough.  She kept going for minimal, but I think she needed to be more versatile as a whole.  I thought it looked lame, and the judges thought the leeches didn’t look right.  She knew she had made poor decisions, and the judges solidified that by calling the character a “Bondage Rambo” that was devoid of visual interest, and changing the model’s jaw line didn’t add anything to the makeup as a whole. They were underwhelmed by this so she was in the bottom looks.
Out of the top looks, even though they thought Chloe had a bold concept and clean application, Daran won this time.  They loved his “outrageously good execution” and the anatomical choices that flowed with the faces. Even though I dislike him, I thought it was a good choice for the winning concept.
Corrine went home.  They felt that her work was uninspired this time and too simple for this stage of the competition.  They know she will do well in the industry, and even though she admitted to struggling with concepts throughout the show, left feeling inspired for the future.

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