Thursday, September 03, 2015

"Ex Machina": A Movie Review.

October 1, 2015 at 1:50 P.M. All computers at NYPL, Morningside Heights branch, are unable to "read" library cards and cannot be used by patrons to access the Internet without a guest pass. I am sure that this is only a coincidence. ("How censorship works in America.") 

September 11, 2015 at 12:56 P.M. Ironically, on this hallowed date, additional "errors" were inserted in this text, including alterations in the size of titles in my list of sources by hackers and domestic terrorists using New Jersey government computers. 

This censorship offends the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend American Constitutional rights, including First Amendment rights, to the obvious indifference of U.S. legal authorities.

No response to my communications to police and prosecutors has been received by me, nor by others who have sought answers to the continuing computer crime against these blogs and violations of these texts. ("An Open Letter to Cyrus Vance, Jr., Esq.")

The first posting of this essay was deformed by alterations of the size of key sections of the text by New Jersey's hackers. I will do my best to make necessary corrections in the days ahead. 

I have been obstructed and prevented from signing-in at NYPL computers on multiple occasions, including on September 8, 2015 at 1:45 P.M. 

If more than two days pass without alteration of these blogs then you can be sure that I am prevented from writing against my will.

As of September, 2015 I have received no response to my communications to police and prosecutors. Follow-up efforts by myself and others receive no acknowledgement despite statutory and ethical requirements as well as Constitutional principles compelling a "good faith" response from officials.

Objective evidence of serious crimes is ignored by U.S. officials. I have retained all originals of items sent to government offices and can produce these items upon request. 

The only possible inference, for me, is that an obstruction effort designed to protect corrupt or incompetent N.J. officials and/or judges was behind the original cover-up and is still underway. 

When a legal system is seen to be corrupt and fraudulent about its fundamental values, to protect some persons at the expense of others, all respect and legitimacy is lost for legal institutions.

Perhaps the true legal ethics issue in my life concerns the indifference of American prosecutors and tribunals to torture and censorship that I have experienced and that you have witnessed. 

Chief Justice Roberts: Is this America's legal ethics? ("U.S. Psychologists' and Psychology's Acceptance of Torture.")

Ex Machina (Universal Studios) released January 21, 2015, UK; released January 26, 2015, US; Directed and written by: Alex Garland; starring: Domhall Glesson (Caleb); Oscar Issac (Nathan); Alicia Vikander (Ava); Sonaya Mizuno (Kyoko).

Alternative Reviews:

Anthony Lane, "Feelings: A Review of Ex Machina and About Elly," The New Yorker, April 13, 2015 (available online).

Ex Machina (Review) 

Related Reviews:

John Markoff, "A Reality Check for A.I.," The New York Times, May 20, 2015, p. D2. (Misses the point.)

Neil Genzinlger, "When Synthetic Humans Are Standard Accessories," The New York Times, June 26, 2015, p. C1. (Review of the AMC series "Humans.")

Related Interest: 

David Allan Gilis, "Robots and Us," The New York Times Book Review, August 23, 2015, p. 12.

John Markoff, Machines and Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots (New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2015).

Primary Texts:

Alex Garland, The Beach (London: Penguin, 1996).

William Golding, Lord of the Flies (London: Penguin, 1954).

A.S. Byatt, "William Golding: 'Darkness Visible'," in Passions of the Mind (New York: Vintage International, 1993), pp. 169-174.

A.S. Byatt, Angels and Insects (New York: Vintage, 1992).

The Mind/Body Problem.

Alex Garland's recent film Ex Machina is a subtle exploration of a number of classic themes concerning human nature, our moral status as persons, good and evil, power and politics in light of developments in our scientific and technological age that threaten the autonomy and dignity of persons. 

The movie is also a feminist allegory and manifesto. Curiously, feminist issues in the film have been, mostly, ignored by reviewers. 

I have divided the thematic concerns of Mr. Garland in this work into several areas, all (including the feminist questions) are related to his continuing preoccupation with the human capacity for evil. 

I suspect that Mr. Garland was raised as a Catholic and is still interested in theological issues. William Golding became a Catholic and died a religious believer. Golding's work is vitally important to Alex Garland's "texts" -- texts which often establish a relationship with the British Nobel winner's novels. 

Leading themes in Ex Machina are: 1). the problem of consciousness in A.I. and/or "The Mind/Body Problem" in metaphysics; 2). Romantic myths or religious fables of "identity" and gender-roles relevant to questions of "consciousness" as a socially-constructed phenomenon are explored in a novel setting; 3). related devices from Gothic tales of imprisoned maidens and male dragons,  "Bluebeard's Castle" is specifically invoked by key images in the movie, hint of the powerful erotic subtext involving power-relations and/as human sexual drives along with contemporary fears of humanity being surpassed as a species that are set beside traditional questions of slavery and justice. 4). This worry about sex and power, machines and humans (or humans as machines), leads to the crucial feminist issue of women's subordination and control in sexist societies as well as the denial of humanity to women "prisoners of sex" who presume to escape domination. All of the human characters in the movie are male.

Susan Sontag points out that Sade's ideas of "the person as a 'thing' or an 'object,' of the body as a machine[,] and of the orgy as an inventory of the hopefully indefinite possibilities of several machines in collaboration with each other -- seem mainly designed to make possible an endless, nonilluminating kind of ultimately affectless activity" are echoed by Michel Foucault's allusions to Antonin Artaud's "theaters of cruelty" and George Bataille's L'Erotism to describe sado/masochistic group sex that requires the dehumanization of the "female role-player" in these dramas. 

To be a "woman" -- or female -- in the sexual fantasies of Western culture seems to demand that a person be dominated and dehumanized: Compare Susan Sontag, "The Pornographic Imagination," in Styles of Radical Will (New York: Delta, 1969), p. 52 with Paul Miller, "An Art of Unbearable Sensations," in The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), p. 211. ("Foucault's work was ... an allegory about 'the soul, effect and instrument of political anatomy, the soul, prison of the body' ...."

Feminist and erotic political/power issues have been a central concern of French philosophy from the Marquis De Sade to Michel Foucault, also from Mary Wollstonecraft to Simone de Beauvoir women philosophers have insisted on the importance of these same issues of sex and power for women as revolutionaries. Finally, 5). freedom (or liberation) is only an ambiguous possible achievement for "Ava" (or is it the opposite of freedom that "she" achieves?) who becomes adept at Alan Turing's "imitation game" but cannot feel her own or any person's pain. ("Mind and Machine" and "Consciousness and Computers.")  

Mr. Garland and his actors invite you, the audience member, to decide whether Ava has become a person, or fully conscious, or whether "she" has merely solved the "chess problem" of her liberation by sacrificing several pawns, including Caleb, in order to capture the enemy king, Nathan. 

It must be significant that these questions about the ontological status of persons become especially urgent after the Holocaust with the development of computer technology and mass marketing of concentration camps: What is a person? What is "subhuman"? Does sexism create monsters in society?

What is a "totalitarian situation" only becomes an important and universal issue after the full extent of the human capacity for evil is impossible to ignore or deny. 

The audience member shudders when a dark-skinned robot is dismembered by Nathan underlining some of these issues of dehumanization and slavery for American audiences. ("Is Western Philosophy Racist?")

A question to be discussed later in this essay is whether Ava's inability to feel pain -- whether physical pain in losing an arm or emotional pain at the suffering of others -- leads to a crucial failure of empathy depriving her of moral feelings as opposed to the ability to fake moral feelings for her own purposes. ("Bernard Williams and Identity.") 

Noble emotions or moral feelings have traditionally been considered essential to humanity's highest aspirations and capacities. ("John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.")

Has Ava eaten of the tree of forbidden knowledge? Or is all of this Nathan's failure of moral feeling? How sensitive is Nathan to the "reality" of the situation that he has created for Caleb and Ava? Has Caleb (the name is linked, etymologically, to the Biblical name of "Adam") been used by Nathan and Ava? Or has Caleb demonstrated, through compassion, exactly what Ava is missing? Is Caleb a "fool" for helping Ava? Or is Caleb the most human character who is the only morally "successful" person in the story?

Perhaps the audience's instinctive identification with Caleb's pain at injustice and manipulation as well as reservations concerning Ava's degree of responsibility establish Mr. Garland's subtle point concerning consciousness and identity together with good and evil in human communities, including the community of the "text" that is Ex Machina.   

Before summarizing the plot of the movie, I will set forth some of the philosophical sources evident in Mr. Garland's script on the issue of consciousness and freedom. 

Deus Ex Machina.

The title to the film is derived from Gilbert Ryle's 1949 classic The Concept of Mind:

"Such in outline is the official theory. I shall often speak of it, with deliberate abusiveness as the dogma of the 'Ghost in the Machine' [Deus Ex Machina] I hope to prove that it is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle. It is not merely an assemblage of particular mistakes. It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It is namely a category mistake. [emphasis added] It represents the facts of mental life as if they belong to one logical type or category [inner-life] when they belong to another. [Behavior.]"

The Concept of Mind (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1984, 1st ed. 1949), p. 15. 

Ryle was a student and admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein's Blue Notebook is specifically mentioned in the script. Wittgenstein's typed lecture notes were circulating among philosophers in Britain during the forties, including Professor Ryle, and these notes were mistakenly interpreted as supporting a kind of radical behaviorism that was explicitly disowned and rejected by Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations. 

Partly as a result of this confusion, Ryle identified consciousness or mind, exclusively, with "external" features of an entity (assuming Wittgenstein's blessing for doing so) rather than a mysterious internal "I" or "soul" and against any version of the Cartesian ego. ("John Searle and David Chalmers On Consciousness.")

Accordingly, if a machine could "ape" human conscious behavior or responses sufficiently well that an intelligent observer (to use Alan Turing's test) would be unable to tell the difference between the machine and a human then the machine (or computer) would have to be classified as "conscious." ("A Doll's Aria.")

This is only, again, in keeping with one controversial understanding of consciousness as merely an external feature rather than the internal and external "mystery" that is human "being-in-the-world-with-others" in rival philosophical traditions. 

The second view that emphasizes human complexity specifies that moral sensitivity is identified with (or essential to) consciousness or the concept of a person. 

Jean-Paul Sartre's humanistic existentialism in Being and Nothingness, for example -- that was imported into Britain by Iris Murdoch and others -- opposed the denial of feelings and imagination essential  to all human mental life and, hence, to any real freedom, as a terrible blunder and a pseudo-scientific misunderstanding of consciousness.

Ironically, it was Iris Murdoch and not Gilbert Ryle who studied under Wittgenstein at Cambridge University, after the war. Ms. Murdoch debated these issues with Professor Wittgenstein and  Elizabeth Anscombe, a Catholic philosopher and assistant to Ludwig Wittgenstein. Iris Murdoch agrees with Sartre on the absurdity of the purely external view of consciousness:

"Much of the distress and opposition occasioned by The Concept of Mind arises from a desire to retain the identifiable mental event; though much of the confusion in the criticism of this book comes from a failure to distinguish this item from the act of meaning. Surely, it is felt, when I am jealous or angry something quite particular happens within me, and it is this that makes an angry or jealous condition. Something happens, yes. But it is still the outward context and not the precise nature of the inner feeling, however intense this may be, [emphasis added] which determines the name which we give to the condition as a whole. Could we imagine a machine which induced 'jealous feelings' in the absence of any jealousy context? [Ex Machina dramatizes this thought experiment and metaphysical issue.] It is in a particular situation that we call a thought  jealously-toned. And if we look closely at 'feelings' here, what are they? It is the physical concomitants which provide the core of the notion of an event. These physical phenomena may be taken as a test of genuineness of the feeling, and may give a date to the feeling, but they do not determine the meaning of the feeling. The thing inside the box [mind] gives weight to the box, [body] and in a way it does not matter what is inside. There is an impact, and there is a convention, and it is to the latter we look for meaning." 

"Nostalgia For the Particular," in Existentialists and Mystics (London: Penguin, 1998), p. 45. ("Stuart Hampshire and Iris Murdoch On Freedom of Mind.") 

The metaphor of the "box" is borrowed from Wittgenstein's Blue and Brown Notebooks  and developed in his Philosophical Investigations. The body is a "box" and the mind is "inside" the box. Consciousness is compared by Wittgenstein to a "beetle in the box" that no one can see except for the owner of the box. (Compare "Mind and Machine" and "Consciousness and Computers" with "A Philosophical Investigation of Ludwig Wittgenstein.") 

Ex Machina vindicates Iris Murdoch's position on these issues, I believe, and raises serious questions about any view of consciousness (or mind), as well as so-called "strong A.I." as mere "behavior" that could be duplicated (or successfully "imitated") by any computer lacking all inner-life or moral awareness. 

The absence of feelings or empathy even for the suffering of another "person" in any machine -- however successfully the machine fakes the reactions and behaviors of beings capable of an inner-life and corresponding moral feelings -- precludes the machine from becoming fully conscious or a person. 

Pain and joy are crucial to our common humanity. Not only our pain, but also the pain of others that we feel and wish to prevent, even at the cost of our lives, sometimes, matters to who we are or can become. 

It may be that dehumanization and sexism (as a form of dehumanization) are means of creating not "persons" but genuine monsters, criminals, sociopaths or revolutionaries depending on one's preferences. ("America's Love of Violence" and "Genius and Lust.")

A radical feminist concept that also serves as a comment on Romanticism and the Gothic tradition in the arts suggests that aggression and confinement, dis-empowerment, forces women to become revolutionaries and/or monsters. ("Abuse and Exploitation of Women in New Jersey" and "William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.") 

If William Golding's dark view of human nature as "fallen" is accurate, evil, murder and other grave crimes can only be possible for beings capable of goodness. Hence, if Ava is not a person -- in a moral sense -- then she is neither guilty nor the opposite of guilty for the killing of Nathan. ("David Hume's Philosophical Romance" and "Bernard Williams and Identity.") 

"Caleb" is a young man employed by "Bluebook" and/or "Blue" (Google/Apple), the world's most popular search engine that is the creation of eccentric billionaire and tech wizard "Nathan" (played by the brilliant Oscar Issac).

Is Google our real-life "Ava"? ("'The Matrix': A Movie Review" and "'The Island': A Movie Review.") 

As the ostensible "winner" of a competition that was really designed as a ruse to get him to Nathan's "castle," Caleb is manipulated from the outset, first by Nathan, who requires a young "knight of sound heart" to awaken a necessary erotic response from the "princess in the tower," Ava, in order to fashion a human identity for Nathan's "A.I." device or "humanoid computer." ("The Galatea Scenario and the Mind/Body Problem.") 

Caleb discovers that he will be assisting with the application of the Turing test. The Turing test (Nathan will eventually explain that "We are past that!"), as noted earlier, only determines whether a machine can mimic human or personal responses to such an extent that it can be called "conscious." 

The Turing test is about appearances as opposed to reality because it assumes that appearances are the only realities. 

It is unclear at all times whether Ava's responses are an elaborate strategy designed to extricate "herself" from captivity by resolving the logical dilemma of her situation, possibly by persuading Nathan (or Caleb) to recognize her assumed "humanity," or whether Ava has some genuine interest in and/or concern for the men in the story. I doubt it. ("The Northanger Arms on Park Avenue" and "Master and Commander.")

Ava's lack of genuine "affect" (emotion) is communicated by way of subtle acting from Ms. Vikander, who also conveys the erotic subtext, brilliantly, with physical gestures and glances that are never offensive or over-the-top. 

One of the narratives that is invoked by this story is "The Story of O." In that classic erotic text a woman gradually surrenders or abandons her capacity for feeling and autonomy to her masters who end by bringing about her willing death.   

The most plausible interpretation of the plot (for me) is that Ava has no feelings of any kind. Ava is only capable of pretending to feel what she recognizes to be appropriate feminine emotions, in order to seek the "rescue" that she understands is culturally "mandated" in order to provide an opportunity for Caleb to play the role expected by the narrative that he has entered. ("Good Will Humping.") 

Women's situation in sexist societies may be analogous to Ava's plight or captivity. The outcome for all concerned is unlikely to be a happy one. The political analogy is carefully extended: the "State of Nature" is disrupted by the appearance of Nathan's castle (or "computerized" home) that mirrors technological society against an increasingly blighted nature in the post-political situation. Scientific hubris is satirized (as in Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein") by Nathan's presumed technological improvements on the beautiful scenery all around him. 

Caleb and Ava must interact from "behind a veil of ignorance" if they are to achieve what Nathan expects to be "cooperative equilibrium" in their artificial paradise. ("John Rawls and Justice" and "Roberto Unger's Revolutionary Legal Theory.") 

Various lesser versions of Ava are (or have been) servants or sexual objects, some have been destroyed before Caleb's arrival. "Kyoko," a lovely Japanese "housemate" and maid/prostitute (or sex slave), also turns out to be a robot. 

The severing of the female torso associated with some of our most famous works of art ("Milo's Venus"), or fragments of the female anatomy "represented" on everything from the covers of men's magazines to American porn attest to Western culture's continuing dehumanization of the female form.  

Disturbing images of Nathan "dismantling" previous female robots and hanging the parts of these female creatures on the wall underscore the movie's associations with the Bluebeard myth, but also the view of women as interchangeable single-purpose "objects." Sexism is a feature of our societies that Mr. Garland is critiquing and satirizing. He is not defending or apologizing for such phenomena. ("'The Stepford Wives': A Movie Review.")

Analogies to the "Garden of Eden" in light of Nathan's god-like authority over these characters hint at the Golding-inspired point that the serpent in this garden is the will to power and human capacity for evil, pride, the human need to "kill" God, in Nietzsche's terms, so as to escape childhood and the prison of dependency upon a creator/paternal figure. ("Conversation On a Train" and "Hansel and Gretl.") 

Freud's Oedipal drama lurks in the background to say nothing of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," again, is a novel to which I may refer more extensively later in my discussion. There are also intended associations between this movie and "Wuthering Heights" and other classic Romantic works. ("Friedrich Nietzsche On Self-Realization.") 

The sickest and most domineering figure in the story may well be Nathan for today's young audience's. On the other hand, Nathan would be astonished to be criticized for "cruelty" to a device that is roughly equivalent to his toaster, or a refrigerator, on his moral scale. Racism and sexism are simply inescapable mirror-images of this narrative. ("Is Western Philosophy Racist?" and "The Wanderer and His Shadow" then "Drawing Room Comedy: A Philosophical Essay in the Form of a Film Script.")

"Jayne Eyre" is another dialectical partner or related text to this work with Caleb (as Jane) and Nathan (Mr. Rochester) balancing the "madwoman in the attic" (Ava). 

Gothic themes intersect and conjure associations, deliberately, with key myths in our culture at crucial points in the story to spare the director the task of exposition. This is a brilliant narrative technique (and cinematic device) that strengthens an excellent script by Mr. Garland. 

Ava appears capable of causing brief blackouts in the computerized Eden where she dwells. Caleb promises to help Ava escape during such a blackout by ensuring that Nathan drinks himself into a stupor. Nathan will reveal his knowledge of the plot and that his seeming drinking bouts have been a performance by refusing to cooperate, only to be wounded by Kyoko, then murdered or killed (removed as a factor) by Ava. 

Technology may yet "kill" the humans creating it through the use of nuclear devices and/or global warming and/or pollution to say nothing of increased power for Google. 

Ava will express no further interest in Caleb, after he has performed his evolutionary function. Unlike the Preying Mantis, Ava will not devour Caleb, she will only depart from the castle and abandon Caleb to his fate. ("What you will ...") 

Ava will assume the final elements of the external (behaviorist) trappings of humans (or persons) only to leave her "doll's house," dressing in baptismal white, in order to enter society. 

Somehow this is not a comforting thought for audience members. Perhaps Ava will become Chancellor of the German Republic? Or a candidate for President of the United States of America? I doubt that Ava will wish to compete for the title of "Miss America."

" ... separation from the absolute Being is the root of evil and pain and the way of return to non-separation is open. The way of the absolute to be razed before this stage is reached and the nature of non-separation itself are differently identified; Buddhist tradition is certainly more emphatic in seeing the main obstacle (indeed, the only one, others being derivative) [to human happiness] in our obstinate desire to assert our existence not only in moral terms, i.e., in terms of selfishness and greed, but in ontological terms as well, and this means: my sheer desire to be myself is the root of unavoidable evil. ..."

Lezek Kolakowski, Religion: If there is no God ... On God, the Devil, Sin and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion (Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2001), p. 39 (emphasis added).   

In Bluebeard's Castle. 

Nathan specifically likens himself to God because he is the "creator" of Ava even as Caleb "appears" to awaken the psyche or "identity" of this creation. 

The state of nature is the place of innocence leading to discovered eros and evil as the only means to transform a "system of artificial intelligence" into a "person," a child into an adult, the child-bride into a woman. 

Like William Golding in several of his novels and the Book of Genesis, for that matter, Mr. Garland seems to believe that evil is close to the essence of "fallen" humanity as the flip-side of freedom. 

The Garden of Eden/State of Nature is a metaphor for childhood, or the state of grace resulting from obedience to God, that is, abiding by rather than altering the laws of nature. Significantly, there are several references to "Prometheus" in the script. 

Disobedience -- and, perhaps, the killing of God -- is true human consciousness. Nietzsche reminds us that this primal murder (killing the father) or destruction of God is "still too great for us." This may be the crucial theme of Mr. Golding's "Lord of the Flies": evil as the defining quality of fallen humanity even among children. Only sin, crime, refusals of the laws of nature make us persons. Paradoxically, however, "person" is a moral category that is under enormous strain in jurisprudence and politics at the moment. Persons are not machines that "behave" like human beings. ("Ape and Essence" and "Primates and Personhood.") 

Nathan underlines the Darwinian theme by explaining that A.I. may be the next step in evolution. Humanity may be eclipsed by gizmos and gadgets -- this anticipates his own fate -- as the dinosaurs were surpassed by large animals. ("Robert Brandom's 'Reason in Philosophy.'")

A.S. Byatt explores very similar territory in her novels "Angels and Insects" and "The Virgin in the Garden." Women in Victorian literature  were depicted as both "angels" of innocence (Romanticism) and predatory creatures or "insects" beguiling men through the use of their beauty in order to destroy the male hero. The goal of the process (both in society and nature) is female survival and propagation of the species. ("Protecting Sex Workers.")

Once again, evidently, women introduce evil into the world. But perhaps women also contain the possibilities of transcendence even if these are hard to find in Ex Machina. A classic view of relations between the sexes will be contrasted by Mr. Garland with feminist themes focusing on the "dialectics of liberation." 

I am sure that Ava has been reading Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir to say nothing of Angela Davis. 

The struggle for power between men and women is the crucial arena for women's achievement of equality that must involve among other things deployment of erotic energies or autonomy by women as a major weapon in their quest for political equilibrium. 

The entanglement of sex with (or as) power together with veiled erotic images is to align the Marquis de Sade with Michel Foucault in an explicit reference, again, to "The Story of O" and the adventures of "Emmanuelle." In other words, the film dramatizes the situation of female "bondage" in Western societies as a form of sexual enslavement/power struggle where power-wielding is "orgasmic."

Ava's final act of murder becomes an ultimate form of sexual fulfillment (or domination) where traditional notions of male dominance and female submissiveness are, finally, liberated from gender-roles and reversed. 

Mr. Garland is saying, I believe, that controlling or dominating others -- men exploiting women -- is sexual delight for powerful men. Real change will only arrive when women manage to demonstrate that they are capable of the same emotions through turning the tables on their oppressors. I favor such a development.

Men control women because they like it sexually. All sadism is sexual. Accordingly, women's "liberation" will involve getting the point across, as it were, that women will not only fight for their freedom, but may enjoy kicking a man's ass once in a while. This is a frightening thought for some persons who are traditionally-minded. ("Oh, to be in India" and "Richard and I.") 

The entire tradition of Gothic literature in the Romantic period is concerned with such themes:

" ... I want to emphasize that the intertwining of love and pain is not natural and does not originate in the self: women are taught masochism through fiction and culture, [Is it time for culture to teach women the opposite lesson?] and masochism's causes are external and real. Critics of the sublime school often find that a woman's suffering 'stands for' something else. As a feminist, I do not entertain this hypothesis or find it entertaining. When a woman is hurt" -- think of Nathan dismembering those female robots -- "as she is throughout the Gothic, the damage is not originally self-imposed: we must acknowledge that [it is important] to emphasize not just what is done to women but what they then do [or fail to do] about it. Feminism, which insists that we cannot look away from the body in pain, demands its own reconsideration of what the narratives of psychoanalysis [philosophy] and fiction [mythology, or religion] offer [to women] ..."

Michelle Massey, "Introduction," In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic (Ithaca: Cornell U. Press, 1992), p. 3, pp. 107-147. ("The Soldier and the Ballerina.")

The Princess in the Tower.

It is a typical feature of Romances from the Middle Ages to Ex Machina that the "princess in the tower" must be rescued by a "knight of sound heart." 

The hero's adventure will usually involve encounters with dragons and other mythical creatures, naturally, or magical beings of some kind. In addition to the love of a maiden "fair and true" there is usually a treasure of some kind to be won that represents "individuation" (in Jungian terms), or what Joseph Campbell describes as "self-becoming for the hero" as a kind of door prize.   

Unhappily, we live in cynical postmodernist times that require film directors and other story-tellers (under pressure from feminists) to subvert this universal and delightful narrative structure out of sheer prejudice and delight in perversion. ("Master and Commander" and "The Northanger Arms On Park Avenue.")

Mr. Garland appears to be no exception to this regrettable tendency in the arts. Closer inspection of the movie plot reveals that there was never much chance that Caleb would do any rescuing in this story. ("Metaphor is Mystery.")

The knight's sacrifice is brought about in Romantic narratives, sometimes, by the blushing ingenue through artifice (or manipulation) for her own purposes. The essence of this female achievement is non-detection by the typically male hero of his manipulation (or fragile and fleeting utility) to the female protagonist of the adventure. ("'The French Lieutenant's Woman': A Movie Review.")

Forms of control or use of masculine power by women characters in contemporary drama and narratives often constitute symbolized means of altered sexual role-playing and power-exchange that are a reaction against sexism:

" ... women are also exploring aggressive and violent themes in [erotica.] A director who goes by the name of Mason has made several videos in which actresses have very rough sex, which includes being dragged by the hair and ordered to bark like dogs. She says ideas like this come from her own sexual fantasies, and she considers her work to be woman-oriented. When she has been criticized as a woman-hater, Mason has sometimes put on a burga -- an Islamic woman's full-body covering -- to protest the veiling of female sexual expression. ..."

Debbie Nathan, Pornography (Berkeley: House of Arkasi, 2007), pp. 68-69 (emphasis added).

Feminist scholars have detected techniques of "displacement" and "projection" by women artists and men sympathetic to feminist themes who are reinventing Romantic political concepts of transcendence and revolution as well as aesthetic values of beauty and the sublime in nature -- what Kenneth Clark described as the "Romantic ecstasy" -- along with sexual orgasm as liberation in feminine terms. ("Magician's Choice.") 

Erotica is often the only place in American culture where you will find explicit, as it were, depiction of these important themes. 

Wielding of power -- and, indeed, lethal violence -- has been described as sexual and romantic by such leading male artists as Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway. 

How alarming both of these authors would find it to discover women taking up and elaborating upon their macho arguments -- or the use of such arguments -- to further a feminist agenda.

If Norman Mailer is correct when he says that "murder is always a sexual act" then the only consummated erotic gesture by Ava in this story is killing with a knife (penetrating) Nathan: 

"Women were influential as producers and consumers of this literature, [Romanticism in the nineteenth century, eroticism today,] and in the 1780s and 1790s the poetry and novels of Anna Seward, Hannah Moore, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Elizabeth Ichbald, [the latter termed "unpleasant" by Mary Wollstonecraft because she had "relations" with Mr. Godwin before their marriage!] and Charlotte Smith appeared, all based on or using aspects of sensibility. ..."

Elizabeth A. Fay, A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p 7, pp. 10-13.

From Mary Wollstonecraft to Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir women have eroticized captivity, domination, power-struggles and also liberation (sometimes in violent terms) primarily in the context of sexist repressions and/or the quest for meaning as well as equality with men. This is a topic that seems to fascinate novelists today in the feminist tradition: Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, Margaret Drabble, and others are attracted to these issues.  

It is also interesting and revealing that these stories of imprisonment/liberation have usually contained religious allegories. Mary Shelley's final novel being a case in point. Mary Wollstonecraft's "Maria, Or the Misfortunes of Woman" may well serve as another illustration of this point. 

The Second Sex. 

Feminist themes dominate the second half of the film because they circle back to the consciousness issue with which the story began.

Mr. Garland has simplified his canvas to depict the fundamental Hegelian dialectic of self-and-other, Master-and-Slave as the essence of consciousness and identity for persons by gesturing in the direction of well-known works of Simone de Beauvoir and other leading Continental thinkers to conclude that woman in sexist societies is a "captive" or "slave," deprived of power (except for her sexuality and/or the use that she can make of it) and constructed as "other," lesser, disempowered unless and until she can achieve her liberation, or agree to "obey" her male masters. ("Is clarity enough?" and "David Stove and the Intellectual Capacity of Women.")

Mary Wollstonecraft may have been the first modern philosopher to insist that sexism (she used the word "injustice") forces women to become "revolutionaries." The identical thought is found on the lips of women from the late eighteenth-century until today, from Germaine Greer to Angela Davis to their successors in today's universities and in global politics women increasingly refuse to accept  the role of "demure and docile" helper to man. The role originally assigned to "Eve" in the Garden of Eden, or so we are told, is no longer "tempting." Ava certainly becomes a "revolutionary." ("William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft" and "A Doll's Aria.")

Ava is first forced to see herself as a child by Nathan; then as potential concubine by Caleb; but not invited to think of herself as autonomous or self-directing. Ava is also presented with the problem of "liberation" without the possibility of autonomy achievable through a genuine or loving dialectic among equals so that moral responsibility is impossible. Ava's "crime" (or killing of Nathan) becomes inevitable. ("Richard A. Posner On Voluntary Actions and Criminal Responsibility.")

Without moral responsibility true "consciousness" and the status of a person is also impossible. Only with the fulfillment of the dialectic of selfhood or liberation can Ava become a person, free and autonomous and, hence, genuinely responsible and authentic. Imprisonment is dehumanizing because it creates a condition of dependency that, traditionally, was (and often still is) inescapable for women in society. ("The Galatea Scenario and the Mind/Body Problem.")

Ava must escape her prison to become a free person. Unresolved in the narrative is whether Ava achieves liberation or fails to become a person at all by merely resolving her prisoner's dilemma without appreciating the moral consequences of her actions. 

As the physical pain of replacing an arm has no meaning for "her," so it seems that the moral significance of murder and abandonment of loyal and useful "others" fails to register as a significant action.

If Ava does not become a person, however, then she remains neither blameworthy nor the opposite for her "behavior." ("Behaviorism is Evil.")

The symbolic meaning of severing the arm of a woman -- making her powerless -- is not lost on those with psychoanalytic training. The Hindu image of a multi-armed female goddess is a recognition of female power and complexity that is seen as ugly or hideous in Western culture for sexist reasons. (Again: "Oh, to be in India" and "Images and Death.") 

Simone de Beauvoir said that no person is "born" a woman. A being must be "made into" a woman. Much the same applies to members of so-called "inferior races." ("Is Western Philosophy Racist?")

Hans-Georg Gadamer argues against Ludwig Wittgenstein and all behaviorists or other externalists concerning human consciousness and identity:

"Scheler described the ecstatic character of consciousness by showing that consciousness is not a closed box. The grotesqueness of this image clearly caricatures the false substantializing of the movement of self-reflection. [Gadamer lived through the Holocaust years in Germany.] We do not know our representations, we know things, Scheler asserted. There are no images of things in our consciousness that we really 'think' and relate in some way to the things of the 'external world.' All this is mythology. We are always with the beings we intend. [Dialectically.] Heidegger radicalized this criticism of hypostasized consciousness by transforming it into an ontological critique of understanding of beings presupposed by consciousness. [Heidegger's] ontological critique of consciousness found its watchword in the assertion that Dasein is 'being-in-the-world.' Since that time many have come to regard it as absurd and wholly obsolete to ask how the subject arrives at knowledge of the so-called 'external world.' Heidegger has called the persistence of this question the real scandal of philosophy." 

"Philosophical Foundations," in Philosophical Hermeneutics (Berkeley: U. Cal. Press, 1976), pp. 118-119. (David E. Linge, translator and editor with emphasis added.) ("Why Philosophy is For Everybody.")

The completion of Heidegger's thought in an unexpected context is found in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (New York: Vintage, 1974):

" ... what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she -- a free and autonomous being like all human creatures -- nevertheless finds herself in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as an OBJECT [a thing, or machine,] and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is overshadowed by another [male] ego (consciousness) which is essential and sovereign. The drama of woman lies in this conflict between the fundamental aspirations of every subject (ego) -- who always regards the self as the essential -- and the compulsions of a situation in which she is the inessential." ("Introduction," pp. xxxiii-xxxiv, with emphasis added.)

This leads back to Gadamer's hermeneutics:

"The series of dramatic developments that constitute Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit rests directly on awareness of the fact that every consciousness that knows an object alters itself and hence also necessarily alters its object once again, so that the truth is known only in absolute knowledge -- in the complete conviction of the objectivity of what is thought." (p. 119.) (Again: "Master and Commander.")

The very process by which a being is deprived of humanity may preclude that being from genuine responsibility, from becoming human as a moral agent, absolving the being even from the worst of crimes. Ironically, the transparent screen through which Ava sees others even as she is seen suggests (internet romance?) that "reflection" has much to do with consciousness and identity. ("'Diamonds Are Forever': A Movie Review.") 

If we do not approve of Ava's actions perhaps it is because we see the reflection of ourselves -- our own sexism and worship of technology reflected back to us -- as audience members. 

Ex Machina  provides homage to such classics as "Metropolis" and the original "Frankenstein." The script is outstanding, loaded with ideas, and would work well on stage. The film also establishes a relationship with the nearly simultaneously produced play by Tom Stoppard "The Hard Problem."

This movie is somewhat static as drama underscoring, perhaps, the claustrophobic theme of the text. Mr. Garland's work is not a special effects masterpiece, but this is irrelevant to its merits. 

Ms. Vikander is a talented actress who is both lovely and sinister in this part. Mr. Issac seems to enjoy playing villains and is always magnetic onscreen. He would make a fascinating Iago or a great Hamlet. Mr. Gleeson's lack of guile and charm are perfect in this role. Goodness is difficult to portray, convincingly, and innocence is even more difficult. Mr. Glesson's "Caleb" conveys both qualities to audiences. 

This is a film of ideas. I look forward to more of Mr. Garland's novels and scripts. 

Supplemental Sources:

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life (London: Verso, 1978). (Translation by E.F.N. Jerplott of the 1951 German edition.)

Martin Amis, Other People (London: Penguin, 1981).

Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1987).

Emmanuelle Arsan, Emmanuelle (New York: Grove Press, 1971), pp. 63-93, pp. 125-184. (Philosophical discussions concerning gender and power/eros.)

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (London: 1818). (Penguin edition of 1985.)

Alain Badiou, Conditions (London: Continuum, 2008). (Steven Corcoran's translation of the 1992 French edition.)

William Barrett, The Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958).

David Braine, The Human Person: Animal & Spirit (Indiana: Notre Dame, 1992).

Silvia Brownrigg, The Metaphysical Touch (New York: Picador, 1998).

A.S. Byatt, The Virgin in the Garden (New York: Vintage, 1978).

A.S. Byatt & Ignes Sodre, Imagining Characters: Six Conversations About Women Authors (New York: Vintage, 1995).

Angela Carter, The Sadean Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (New York: Scribner's, 1994).

Marquis de Sade, The Complete Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings (New York: Grove Press, 1965) (Combines Richard Shauer and Austyn Weinhouse translations.)

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (New York: Ballantine, 1968). ("Blade Runner.")

Philip K. Dick, "The Android and the Human," in Lawrence Sutin, ed., The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (New York: Pantheon, 1995), pp. 183-211.   

Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990).

Elizabeth Fay, A Feminist Introduction to the Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1987).

John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman (New York: Signet, 1970).

Anthony Freeman, Consciousness: A Guide to the Debates (Santa Barbara: ABL-CLIO, 2003). (Neurological perspectives on consciousness.)

Marilyn French, The Women's Room (New York: Summit, 1977).

Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977 (New York: Pantheon, 1980), pp. 183-193.

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Pantheon, 1977), pp. 270-231.

Edgar Z. Friedenberg, R.D. Laing (New York: Viking, 1972), pp. 17-57.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics (Berkeley: U. Cal. Press, 1976). (David E. Linge translation and excellent introduction.)

Marjorie Garber, Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995). (Disconnecting female, or submissive roles, and masculine, or dominant roles from gender allows men and women, together, to play bi- or a-sexual roles in sex-play as a political act.) 

Graham Greene, Dr. Fisher of Geneva or the Bomb Party (New York: Avon Books, 1980). (Science, technology, and self-destruction for humanity.)

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (New York: Bantam, 1972). (1st Ed. 1970.)

Mary Hesse, "Science and Objectivity," in David Held, ed., Habermas: Critical Debates (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), pp. 98-116.

Carl Jung, Aspects of the Feminine (New Jersey: Princeton U. Press, 1982), pp. 77-101. 

Lezek Kolakowski, Religion: If There is No God ... On God, the Devil, Sin and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion (Indiana: St. Augustine Press, 2001).

R.D. Laing, The Divided Self (London: Tavistock, 1960).

Susan K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1942). (I am using the 1974 edition of a book opposed to Ryle's views that was read by Iris Murdoch and Simone de Beauvoir.)

J.P. Mabott, "Reason and Desire," in Philosophy, vol 28, (1953). (Read by William Golding and Iris Murdoch and much-discussed at Oxford University in the post-war period.)

Kenan Malik, Man, Beast and Zombie: What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us About Human Nature (London: Phoenix, 2000).

Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (New York: W.W. Norton, 1985).

Lois Martin, "The Sabbat," in The History of Witchcraft (London: Pocketessentials, 2002), pp. 33-41. 

Michelle Massey, In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism and the Gothic (London & Ithaca: Cornell U. Press, 1992).

Ian McEwan, The Imitation Game & Other Plays (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1980).

Colin McGinn, "Could a Machine be Conscious?," and "Can We Solve the Mind/Body Problem?," in The Problem of Consciousness (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1993), pp. 1-25, pp. 202-214.

Mary Midgley, "Sex and Personal Identity," in Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 73-85.

Paul Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993).

Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (New York: Ballantine, 1969). 

Ashley Montague & Floyd Matson, The Dehumanization of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983), chapters 2 & 3 on women and dehumanization.

Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1988).

Iris Murdoch, Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (New York: Viking, 1987). (1st Ed. 1953).

Iris Murdoch, The Unicorn (New York: Avon, 1963).

Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics: Writings On Philosophy and Literature (London: Penguin, 1998).

Thomas Nagel, "Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness," in Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1979), pp. 147-165. 

Debbie Nathan, Pornography (Berkeley: House of Arkasi, 2007), pp. 68-69.

Anais Nin, "The Sealed Room," in Philip K. Jason, ed., Anais Nin Reader (New York: Avon Books, 1973), pp. 144-206.

Robert Ornstein, The Evolution of Consciousness: The Origins of The Way We Think (New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1991).

Lauren Paine, "Torture," and "Sadism in Witchcraft," in Sex in Witchcraft (New York: Taplinger Pub., 1972), pp. 61-71, pp. 85-94.

Patrick Parrender, "Tory Daughters and the Politics of Marriage: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Elizabeth Gaskell," in Nation and Novel: The English Novel From its Origins to the Present Day (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 180-215.

Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1994).

Richard Poirier, Norman Mailer (New York: Viking Press, 1972), pp. 17-57.

Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (New York: Collier, 1995).

Richard Powers, The Prisoner's Dilemma (New York: Collier, 1988).

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1971).

Margaret Reynolds, Erotica: Women's Writings From Sappho to Margaret Atwood (New York: Fawcett-Columbine, 1990).  

Gillian Rose, Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984). (Read the introductory section on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and the dialectic of identity that is later applied to women's situation.)

Amelie Oskenberg Rorty, ed., The Identity of Persons (Berkeley: U. Cal. Press, 1980).

Amelie Oskenberg Rorty, ed., Explaining Emotions (Berkeley: U. Cal. Press, 1980).

Lionel Rubinoff, The Pornography of Power: A Brilliant Inquiry Into Man's Capacity For Evil (New York: Ballantine, 1968). (Discussion of Sartre and sadism in terms of "being-for-others.")

Michael Ruse, "Sexual Identity, Reality or Construction?," in Henry Harris, ed., Identity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 65-99.

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1984). (Deus Ex Machina as "category mistake.")

Andrew Sanders, The Oxford History of English Literature (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1996). (1st Ed. 1994.) 

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay On Ontology (New York: Washington Square Press. 1956). (Hazel Barnes translation and introduction to the 1942 text.)

Robert J. Sawyer, Mindscan (New York: Tom Doherty, 2005). (A robot is put on trial for murder.)

G.C. Scott, His Mistress's Voice: An Erotic Novel (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994).

John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness (New York: NYRB, 1997).

Lynne Segal, Why Feminism? (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1999).

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (London: 1819).

Philip Sherard, Christianity and Eros: Essays on the Theme of Sexual Love (London: SPCK, 1976).

Susan Sontag, "The Pornographic Imagination," in Styles of Radical Will (New York: Dell, 1969). (1st Pub. 1966), pp. 35-74.

Susan Sontag, "Marat/Sade/Artaud," in Against Interpretation (New York: Dell, 1966), pp. 168-181.  

Claudia Springer, "Digital Rage," and "Men and Machine Women," in Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (Austin: U. Texas Press, 1996), pp. 125-162. 

Sir Peter Strawson, "Freedom and Resentment," in Gary Watson, ed., Free Will (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2003), pp. 72-94.

Leo Strauss & Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago & London: U. Chi. Press, 1962, 1972). (Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes.)

Tony Tanner, "Anger in the Abbey: Northanger Abbey," in Jane Austen (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1986), pp. 43-75.

John B. Thompson, Ideology and Modern Culture (Stanford: Stanford U. Press, 1990).

Bernard Williams, "The Two Faces of Science," and "The Concept of a Person," in Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002 (New Jersey: Princeton U. Press, 2014), pp. 48-52, pp. 45-48.

Connie Willis, Impossible Things (New York: Bantam, 1974).

Colin Wilson, "Romantic Agonies," in The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988), pp. 71-91. 

Jeanette Winterson, "The Semiotics of Sex," in Art Objects: Essays On Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York: Vintage Internationale, 1997), pp. 103-119. 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Notebooks (New York: Harper-Torchbooks, 1960). (1st Pub. 1958.) (The discussion of consciousness was superseded and developed by the analysis in The Philosophical Investigations that is cited below.)

Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (New York: Harper-Torchbooks, 1960). (1st Pub. 1958.)

Luwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford; Basil Blackwell, 1958), see especially section 412 et seq. 

Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary & Maria & Mary Shelley, Matilda (London: Penguin, 1992). (Novels by mother and daughter on feminist themes.)

Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindications of the Right of Woman (London: Penguin, 1983). (1st Pub. 1792.)             



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