Thinking Out Loud About Alex Garland RE: “Ex Machina”

 

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Alex Garland

As a speculative fiction writer, I willfully live in a bubble. I read other sci-fi writers here and there, but other than movies, I avoid anything new or modern. For the past five years I’ve been working, on a sci-fi book. As my publishing debut, I have tried to write from inside this aforementioned bubble. I don’t want the outside coming in, making my work impure and self-conscious.

At an after-hours dinner party in St. Petersburg, Russia (that’s a normal situation to drop in here, right?), I began talking with another musician from London, who was seated next to me, about my book. My elevator pitch was ill-formed and clumsy, but from what I managed, she suggested some similarities to the film Ex Machina. The film was on my must-view list. But unlike many of my peers, I’d rather sleep than stay up all night catching up on the latest TV series. I’m very behind on pop culture. I have two kids and I like sleeping. That’s my excuse.

I’d bumped the film up on my mental list, and left it there. I’d get to it eventually. I had writing to do. Having recently completed a first draft–bringing the story to a point where I can present it to others–I’d have to step out of the bubble and contextualize my work. Let in friends, peers, my first set of readers, then make edits and changes to please a wider audience, and, hopefully, publishers.

This morning I researched a “science hotline” that Hollywood uses to fact check and review fake scientific ideas for feasibility. The Martian was successful partly due to this type of cerebral investment by its creators. Viewers who were actual engineers and biologists could appreciate and engage with the story, because the on-screen concepts were founded in real-life science. My story has science: AI future science. I’d have to call the hotline.

But something caught my eye: “What’s this on the sidebar: Ex Machina. They must have called the hotline!” I clicked. I read. And then, an explosion of synergy. I still had not seen Ex Machina, nor read anything about it beyond a one-line synopsis. While the movie’s science-y stuff and setting described, as in this article, was very different, there was an uncanny and WTF detail I couldn’t deny: the lead character’s names were identical to mine: Nathan and Ava.

Of all the names, of all the millions (billions?) of combinations of two separate names, not to mention the edits and development the Ex Machina script must have gone through…  And in my case, having changed my main character’s names a few times: how did we arrive at the same pair?

In an interview with a screenwriter’s magazine, director and writer Alex Garland mentions the genesis of one of his character’s names from Ex Machina:

“Well when I was first working on this, I called her ‘Eve’. But then I thought that this was too prosaic, because of Adam and Eve and that kind of thing, so by changing it to Ava, it felt like it had some of the qualities of them name ‘Eve’, but it wasn’t as on the nose. And also, ‘Ava’ looks like it’s an acronym–like it stands for ‘Advanced Vehicle Automation’, or something like that. It just felt right.”

More importantly, how am I, somehow, randomly, intuitively, spiritually, synergized to this writer/director, via the ether? Alex Garland: who is this guy? How could I find him, and when I did, what would I say to my new Internet boyfriend? Very quickly I realized the creeping and cyber-stalkery were going nowhere. Turns out famous people are really hard to get a hold of via the Internet. CRUSH: OVER.

Days later I sought out Ex Machina on Netflix and watched it. Conceptually, brilliant. Aesthetically and visually, lovely. Casting, great. But I was left perplexed: why so gendered? Maybe that was the point. At risk of spoiling the film, I was deeply offended by the impractical footwear and outfits available to the women in this film. That said, the compound where the film mostly takes place is, definitely, a fetishized laboratory. If that’s possible. Garland has created a fantasy world where shirtless and sexually frustrated men go to ogle robots whose main programming is set to “Self-Preservation via Cockteasing.”

I wonder if the tagline: “AI JUST GOT A WHOLE LOT SEXIER!” ever came up in any  Ex Machina marketing meetings? I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to feel an even deeper connection with my impossible boyfriend, Mr. Garland. I wanted to be swept away by this film. I wasn’t. I still like and admire Mr. Garland as a writer and director, but now we’re just friends.

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