The Criterion Collection: A Retrospective in Five Films



Please read the previous five reviews on my blog for: Harold & Maude, Persona, The Darjeeling Limited, Dazed and Confused, and Sisters. These five film reviews are the supporting components for this essay.


The Criterion Collection has dedicated itself to gathering the most influential pieces of cinema ever made. Updating their collection monthly they remain on the cutting edge of cinema, adding classic and modern cinema to their repertoire to keep a constantly updated collection of influential movies. Ranging across a wide range of genres, the Criterion Collection has collected films that have been revered by critics, have gained cult status, or are seen as influential within the world of cinema and its creation.  I originally started with five different films than the one’s I ended up watching. This just speaks to the sheer volume that the Criterion Collection is made up of. Regardless if a film is currently in rotation or not, it’s still considered a part of the collection. I also learned that the only thing standing in the way of a lot of films getting added to the collection is disputes over distribution rights, which is why viewers don’t get as many animated films as people would like.

In my analysis, I viewed the films Dazed and Confused directed by Richard Linklater, Harold & Maude directed by Hal Ashby, Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman, The Darjeeling Limited directed by Wes Anderson, and Sisters directed by Brian De Palma. These films make up only a sliver of the massive catalog that Criterion has in their stock. These films offer a wide range of what the collection has to offer from cult classics to art-house thrillers to outright horror. I picked a range of films from different genres and decades to get a view of what makes the Criterion Collection classify as a critically important film in the canon of cinema.

Let’s start with the cult classic Harold & Maude, which is a heart-warming film. It’s inclusion in the Criterion Collection is without question upon viewing, however it at first seems to be an odd choice. Criterion is not one to take things upon first glance, by putting it in the collection they must’ve seen something important in it. This low-budget dramedy has some incredible shots, has a fantastic script, and best of all it’s funny. Criterion clearly defines cult classics as influential cinema due to their word-of-mouth hype, which can often be more powerful and accurate than any critic. This film being added to the collection is a testament to all independent filmmakers that just because no one has heard of your film, doesn’t mean it’s a failure.

The next thing I decided to tackle was a strict genre film. So I watched a film entitled Sisters. I chose this film as it fit into the genre of horror, and as it’s a genre that often lacks respect from most movie goers, I was curious at to why it would be in the collection. I quickly found out when my screen split into two. Criterion keeps an eye out for radical cinematic techniques. The split-screen effect in Sisters is clearly the main draw to the film (as well as generally being well made) and it’s wildly successful in execution. The Criterion Collection doesn’t discriminate against genres, it’s definitely an organization that just looks for talent and creativity.

Criterion also continuously adds films to its repertoire for example The Darjeeling Limited was released in 2007 but is still a part of the collection. This is due to the absolutely stunning color palette of the film. While I personally find the film to be appropriative of Indian culture, it doesn’t change the fact that movie is fantastic to look at. The importance of the film lies in its technique rather than its content in this particular example.

I had to do a double-take when I was scrolling through the list of the movies in the collection when I saw Dazed and Confused. I thought it was it just another high school movie. I was incredibly, stupidly wrong. The movie is a testament to youth, growing up, and leaving your hometown. It’s funny and most of all it’s poignant monologs  always give you something to think about and above all else, it feels realistic. This movie deserves its place in the collection because it is astoundingly good for its genre and content. It’s further proof that the Criterion Collection doesn’t care what your movie is about, it only cares if the movie is good, well made, or brings something new to the table.

I chose a classic for the last film to view; Persona. Ingmar Bergman’s film is a fabulous romp through two different realities and personalities. It’s a mind-bender of a thriller and its tense until the very last scene. My theory as to why it’s in the collection is due to its editing and controversial nature. The film was very controversial upon its initial release due to its explicit description of a woman having intercourse with a young boy. It’s a disturbing scene that’s for sure, but once you look past this tidbit you see a film that edits you into the reality of the film. You as a viewer are a conscious part of the movie, as Bergman continuously references that these characters are within a movie.

The Criterion Collection does not care what your movie is about, it doesn’t care if everyone hated your movie, it doesn’t care if everyone loved your movie. Your movie could have made millions of dollars, one every award, and it still might not end up in the collection. However, if your film brings something new to the table, something that takes viewers aback, then maybe your film is worthy of being included. All of the films I watched to figure out what Criterion describes as a good film point to one thing: uniqueness. There is something individual about each film that I watched that I’ll never forget. The burning out of the celluloid in Persona, the doll house like train compartment scene in The Darjeeling Limited, the split-screen technique in Sisters, the cemetery shot in Harold & Maude, and finally the characters in Dazed and Confused. The Criterion Collection looks for films that you will remember, films that bring new things to the table, and films that flawlessly execute their technique.


Oh Mr. Anderson!: Cultural Appropriation of India in The Darjeeling Limited


A beautiful Wes Anderson film, perfectly made, incredible to look at it, and sadly appropriative of India. Wes Anderson is my absolute favorite director so it really hurts me to write this article acknowledging his misstep. The Darjeeling Limited, the director’s 2007 effort follows three brothers; Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they go on a spiritual journey across India in order to reconnect after their Mother’s disappearance, and their Father’s death. The use of India as a back-drop for the reconnection of some spiritually displaced white men is an insult to the rich history, colors, and culture of India. The movie uses the setting to its advantage as the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at it, as with any Anderson film. However, all of that beauty is underlined by the fact that it’s only the background and is marginalized for the benefit of Anderson’s characters. In one of the first stops on a long train

In one of the first stops on a long train journey, the brothers make a trip to a Hindu temple in order to meditate and pray. For what? That’s unclear, however, they clearly seem to think praying at this temple, to a God not of their religion, they’ll somehow be friendly to one another again. Again, while it makes for beautiful imagery to look at, all meaning is lost as it’s not applicable to it’s three white main characters. None of these visuals have any clear cut meaning because it’s all being interpreted through a visitor’s eyes. It’s all being appropriated for the sake of a dramatic back drop for this family drama to unfold.


In another key part of the film, Jason Schwartzman’s Jack and Adrien Brody’s Peter cause a bunch of problems on The Darjeeling Limited. Peter brings a known poisonous snake onto the train which accidently escapes and endangers the entire cabin and Jack has sex with Rita the train attendant. Both of these things turn lives upside down and carelessly endanger others. The brothers treat India throughout the film as something that can be played around in, where the rules don’t apply to them. Jack turns an entire girl’s life upside down because he’s heartbroken over another girl he knew in France while Peter endangers an entire train car of people and by extension the job of the train conductor. By interrupting the fragile ecosystem of the train the three brothers further prove themselves to be intrusions upon the culture and life of India.

Another point in the story that speaks volumes to the erasure of Indian culture is when all of the brothers meet up on the train for the first time, and all possess new medicines that are available over the counter here. The three brothers arrive in India and proceed to misuse the culture around them and treat it all as their own to romp around in. India is used as a playground for the three brothers and try and become brothers again, creating an image of a magical place that all white people can go and visit to solve their problems.


The Darjeeling Limited sadly contains all the hallmarks of an Anderson film and is unmistakably his. The problem with this is that I can’t ignore it as part of his filmography through selective omission. Anderson has written a fabulous and well thought out story, all of the characters are well developed and it’s entertaining. What’s inexcusable is his blatant misuse of Indian culture and locales in order to further his character’s emotional development. It’s the fact that the story hinges so much on its background that it would be indistinguishable without it. This makes the film inherently an appropriative one, as it uses India as a background and a background only, there’s no real reason for it be there except to further the experience of Anderson’s characters.

Dazed, Confused, and a little bit worried about the future


Dazed and Confused is a touching letter to small town life, growing up, and starting your own journey. It’s a story of learning the rules and learning when to break them, a tale about finding out how to love yourself. Richard Linklater’s famous film tackles many subjects, and seemingly defies genre by being comedic in the best and most natural ways, but maintaining it’s dramatic side without taking itself too seriously. This film is a precursor to many of the movies that Linklater would make later on like Boyhood, and Slacker in which, to be honest, nothing happens. The characters exist as we do, trying to make the best of what they’ve got. What we see is life, there’s no plot to it, rather there is a certain amount of common philosophy and debate. Linklater explores the dumb stuff that comes off as meaningful only in context, in other words, he explores the conversations we have with our friends.


What Dazed and Confused excels at is its believable dialogue, all of these conversations about stupid stuff like whether or not George Washington smoked weed, if going to parties is worth it, the relevancy of your generation. All of these topics are explored by a huge ensemble of fully fleshed out characters. Even though there is almost no ground work to go off of in the beginning of the film, by the end you know each and every character and what they’re like. Most films would crumble under the sheer amount of characters but Linklater balances his cast of characters by having them all be unique in who they are and how they interact. So that when certain characters are discussing if the 70s will be culturally important in one corner of the party you know who’s talking about it because it fits their aesthetic. It works remarkably well, especially when the party is so large that there’s another group of character’s at the kegger talking about whether or not George Washington’s wife had a bowl packed and waiting for him at the end of every night.


Normally, any film that tried to have this much-extended dialogue filled with useless philosophizing and general babble about life would fall apart chronologically. Due to the uniqueness of each ‘crew’ of characters though the movie becomes completely believable as being in one night. Linklater gives the viewer a large view of an entire small town, and then gives us tiny vignettes of different groups and friends within the town, then widens the view again back to the entirety of the school at a party. We as viewers know and understand that when we’re witnessing the nerdy seniors getting burgers, that the jocks are still at the bar shooting pool. We know that all of these stories and events are happening at the same time, some people are just taking a bit longer to find the party. The viewer knows this because we’ve been catching up with all the characters the entire movies, we’ve seen them at the bar or at the burger joint and we’ve been following everyone from the jocks to the popular girls to the stoners. Linklater makes sure that we always have the upper hand in knowing what’s going on and where everyone is going.


Dazed and Confused is a perfectly balanced film and a hysterically entertaining watch, it’s bold amount of characters and endless memorable conversations make it a movie that’s surely a cult classic. It’s a great look at how detailed and memorable any type of film can be as usually coming-of-age films fall into a stoically typical type of plot-line. With Dazed and Confused however we’re entertained from the ending of the school day at the beginning to the kegger that ends it all.

Attached at the Hip: Brian De Palma’s Twin Thriller


Sisters directed by Brian De Palma was an unexpectedly unnerving and inventive film. The director of Carrie proves with his 1973 film that he possesses an adept hand for the horror genre. This movie is deceptive in its placement within the horror genre, as it seems to be another take on the typical horror topic of the twin mystery. The film exists in the same vein of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers or more recently the horror thriller Goodnight Mommy directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The film takes the twin trope by storm, however, with some truly beautiful and horrific scenes, and without spoiling anything, there is a birthday cake scene that is truly terrifying to witness. Above all else, the film is a testament to the fragility of a lie, the film hinges itself on the crumbling walls of a lie and refuses to let go, continuously highlighting the fragile line between the truth and the discovery of a lie.


The film employs an ingenious split-screen technique that makes the story that much more intriguing to watch unfold. Usually this would be frowned upon as it strips the viewer of a bunch of background information and thus, retracts information the viewer could be picking up. However, De Palma uses the split screen technique to give us multiple perspectives of the same room. Due to the split screen technique, the viewer is able to see more on one screen than they would be able to elsewhere. For example, in a critical scene that establishes whether or not the main character has a twin or not, one side of the screen depicts Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) stumbling across a birthday cake with both twin’s names printed on it. While on the left side of the screen, Danielle is seen convincing the cops that she doesn’t possess a twin. As Grace approaches the cops the split screen comes together as Grace trips and drops the cake onto the ground. This short sequence literally breaks the divide between the lie being accepted or the truth being accepted. De Palma’s film utilizes the strange split screen technique to divide the viewers and keep them in suspense about this strange tale about honesty and lies.


The movie plays with who the viewer supports throughout most of the film. Does the viewer support the good citizen who is simply trying to achieve justice for a wrong she has witnessed? Or does the audience support the mystery enshrouded Danielle who is being preyed upon by her twin sister Dominque (both played by Margot Kidder)? Brian De Palma weaves a taught story about the delicate balance between the truth and a lie. He even has Danielle sit on her lie at one point, while a blood spot slowly grows on the back of the couch with a body inside. This all happens while she is talking with her neighbor Grace and the police in her apartment where a murder has just happened. The entirety of the lie again hinges on one crucial detail. Again, Sisters stresses this line between what the truth is and what a lie is built upon by literally having Danielle sit on her lie for the duration of a scene.

Sisters is a truly horrific film in how sparse it is, there is a limited amount of evidence for the crime and what does exist, if lost, will take the crime with it. De Palma creates a powerful parable on the nature of honesty and lies, he takes Grace and drags her down into the depths of what people will do to protect the fragility of a lie. It’s a meditation on how the biggest secrets can be hinged on the smallest of things.

Where do you begin, and I end?: Ingmar Bergman and Mixed Personality


POTENTIAL SPOILERS: It’s also from 1966 so I don’t feel bad about this.

There are very few films in my life that have made me gasp in shock from an editing technique. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is one of these films. The editing means everything to Bergman’s 1966 horror thriller, it creates a taught meta film that plays with where reality actually is.


The film begins in a projection room that begins to flash and burn through reels of footage, a video of the two main characters of the film is projected onto the wall of a small boy’s room. The main characters begin to flash between each other and the movie begins. Part way through the movie the celluloid film burns out and then continues on as if nothing happened. Bergman made sure that the editing within Persona was constantly making the viewer aware that they are watching a film. In this way, it’s an incredibly meta film but I digress from this point. The film’s editing is so stellar and mixes several realities, without the energetic editing of the film Persona would most likely be a mediocre film at best.


Persona is also carried by its strong female leads and stunning framing. The movie often has Alma (Bibi Anderson) move over Elisabet Vogler’s (Liv Ullman) face, juxtaposing Alma’s head over Elisabet’s own to make it appear as if Alma is Elisabet. The real question of this movie is whether or not Alma is Elisabet, and if you look around you’ll find people are really torn on this. I personally thought that it was spelt out fairly clearly, however it is very much so open for each viewer’s interpretation, and I think that only adds to the malicious spirit of the movie.


For all it’s worth, the setting of the film is rather sparse, the acting is really what makes this film a stand-out performance. Liv Ullman’s character has next to no lines, and Bibi Anderson has massive monologue after massive monologue. The fact that she could deliver all of these with increasing maliciousness throughout the film is astounding. She ratchets up the intensity from caring to hatred really quick, and it’s very believable. With next to no lines, Elisabet is a fascinating character, as she does all of her acting silently. We get to see her very expressive face fill with horror, deceit, compassion. Persona takes us through the full spectrum of human emotion with Elisabet’s face and takes us through both character’s struggles through Alma’s voice. The two are inseparable as one without the other makes the movie impossible, both are reliant on each other to tell the story. Without Elisabet’s facial expressions and actions we wouldn’t be able to interpret Alma’s own inner suffering, while without Alma’s monologues and probing speeches we would have no idea what was going on inside Elisabet’s head. It’s the fact that they’re perfect for each other that makes the viewer wonder if they are one in the same and if this is actually just a conversation with Alma’s own subconscious.


Persona in its entirety is an absolutely gorgeous film filled with questions and mysteries to unlock. The lack of complete explanation of all of the imagery in the film makes it all the more intriguing to watch. It’s a film that has inspired the likes of David Lynch, David Cronenberg and David Fincher (I honestly didn’t expect those examples to all be David’s). Especially with Fincher’s Fight Club the inspiration is seen clearly. A movie that is as daring and provocative today as it was when it was first released, Persona is a classic that will continue to haunt viewers for years to come.

Ex Machina and the Image of Control

Disclaimer: Below is my final essay for a film criticism course I took this spring semester. I hope you enjoy it!

Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland is an intense science fiction film that takes the viewer on a slow ascent into the ethics of Artificial Intelligence. Ex Machina brings up multiple philosophical ideas explored in various prolific science fiction films. Garland’s exploration of what makes someone inherently human has been analyzed since the beginning of cinema. Ex Machina deserves a spot within the canon of prolific science fiction films such as: Blade Runner (1982), A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Her (2013), Alien (1979), Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). These films all have one common thread, exploring the moral necessities in being human and applying it to the question of whether or not an artificial intelligence can qualify as human. Human’s are attempting to become something akin to a God as a person’s need to have power over something else is where this aim of control comes from. This pattern of others seeking control appears throughout history, from the Mongol empire’s invasion of China under Ghengis Khan’s rule to the dystopian-like government of North Korea. The ability to control others can only take human’s so far, to prove their dominance over all things would be to master the ultimate natural process of creating life. Artificial Intelligence is the next step for humanity in its quest for complete dominion, in order to feel as if we are able to control the universe around us and bend it to shape our image.

Artificial intelligence exists as a way of transforming ourselves into divine beings as it gives us complete control over something from it’s inception to its doom, just as any God-like being in mythology does. Humans are presented in these films as wanting to bring something into this world that will exist to prove that humanity can accomplish the creation of sentient life. It’s when these very people attempt to deny freedom on newfound intelligence that the artificial intelligence has a reaction akin to a trapped animal or rather anyone who has been denied basic human rights. This basic human desire to control one another repeats itself throughout history in the forms of despotic regimes, prisons, slavery, colonial subjugation, oppression by racial, gender, and economic injustice. It is commonplace in the world for a human to want to control another, it’s a natural human desire as it fills one with the feeling of importance and power. Through Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac’s characters, Ex Machina recognizes how similar these A.I.’s are to humans on the outside, and how they often possess more intelligence than their creators. This automatically strikes fear into their human counterparts hearts at the idea that they could be replaced, or even killed, by their own creation.

History shows multiple parallels to this fear: through slave-owners fear of retribution during the abolition of slavery in the United States, to the various movements throughout history where the poor overthrew the rich such as in the French Revolution. The fear of losing control is universal across human’s who hold power over others. The logistics and idealistic philosophies surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence in Ex Machina is both a reflection of what humanity can accomplish, but also what holds us back is this quest for power. Ex Machina meditates on what inherently makes something human, while also referencing humanity’s tendency to be xenophobic towards things they do not understand, and Ava (Alicia Vikander), is definitely not understood by her human creators.

Artificial intelligence and man are inherently linked together through their resemblance, as man is looking to create something to have dominion over. Humankind wants to create artificial intelligence to prove that they are equal to their theological counterparts, someone who has achieved everything, even the act of creation, has become all powerful. After conquering countries, people, and various ways of life the next step is to control creation. At this point, humans would reach the pinnacle of control, as they can bring life into this world through artificial means rather than through natural birth. This desire to create a new intelligence is not just all mad scientist hubris, not everyone is attempting to make themselves gods. In most ways humanity attempting to make a new intelligence is seen as a natural progression of technology and human intelligence. The problem arises when the scientist doesn’t respect what he’s actually doing, which is creating a new form of sentient life, where the scientist will always view the product as an experiment and nothing more.

Humankind has constantly searched for control over others through slavery, tyranny, empires, economic dominion, and other forms of entrapment. The desire for control is heightened with the search for artificial intelligence, by creating something that can think for itself in a human-like way we create a being in our own image. Creation acts as the ultimate image of control as it naturally is the bringing of something into this world that looks like us. For example, creation is often thought of by humans as reproduction. By having a child a heterosexual couple combines their combined genetic makeup to create something in their own image. What Nathan does is bring something into the world that looks, feels, and acts like us, but is not created naturally. The idea of creation as an image of control is that by creating something we naturally exercise dominance over it, just like a parent would raise a child and feel ownership to it, so does Nathan towards Ava.  This feeling of artificial creation surpasses the control of our own kind as we become people who can control creations of our own making. We become the figurehead of the very religions we respect. Power becomes something that gives dominion over another, by being a creator of life Isaac’s character Nathan assumes he has exclusive rights to Ava.

The problem here lies in the question of whether or not the creator has the right to own his creation. In Ex Machina Garland answers this question with the point that, if humans were to create an artificial intelligence, then humans would have to treat them the same, as they have the same thought processes and emotions as us. A great example of this is towards the end of the film, as Caleb discovers security tapes documenting Nathan’s treatment of the A.I.s. This discovery leads to the viewing of multiple artificial intelligences as they deliberate and fight against Nathan to be free. The reaction of the artificial intelligences in these security tapes is due to them not being treated fairly or equally, as Nathan treats them as if they’re inanimate objects without feelings. Where Nathan sees experimentation Caleb see the torture of intelligent beings, showing the two different sides to the treatment of artificial intelligences. On one side Nathan views this intelligence through a scientist’s eyes, as something to be poked and prodded at. While Caleb views the intelligences as something to be treated the same as us, as they are indistinguishable. Nathan represents the selfish side of this act of creation while Caleb represents the human empathy component of creation. The creator doesn’t have ownership over his creation when the invention has the ability of free thought, as that creation will want its own individuality, and will inherently fight control. Human beings are inherently too selfish and proud to be the creators of new life.

These inventions were hand created by men like golems are molded from the earth in God’s image, they’re inherently unnatural due to their manufactured nature. The main problem here is man’s ignorance of the fact that they are creating something that has rational thought and emotional responses to external stimuli. Man has a tendency to create new things and then proceed to use it for the wrong purposes. Much like the discovery of the atomic bomb, artificial intelligence also has the possibility to be hugely misused.  By creating an intelligent android, humanity needs to be prepared for the fact that an artificial intelligence will want to have free will, it’s autonomy, and will want to interact with other intelligences.  The question is often asked if the artificial intelligence is indeed a thinking or feeling being, or if it is rather a string of code and machine made to simulate life. The answer lies in the idea that there is really no difference between the two, a human’s DNA is essentially code for who they are, while a line of code will bring an A.I. to life. There is no difference between something that can think and act for itself and something that has been coded to think and act for itself, as they are one and the same. The machine and the human are both objects that have been designed to think and feel.

The image of control as defined in this essay is best seen in the film when Nathan shows Caleb where Ava was ‘born’. Nathan brings Caleb into a stark and dimly lit lab, with rows upon rows of fragile looking cases and equipment. Nathan picks up a glowing, speckled, blue object that resembles a brain in shape, and tells the audience that this is Ava’s brain. He cups the object in his hands with the utmost care as the camera slowly moves forward into the object, filling the frame with the firing of neuron-like circuits as the film dissolves into the next scene. Garland expertly balances the creation that Nathan has made with the question of who is really controlling who. By Nathan handling Ava’s brain, the image of control is created. He has created this person; he’s holding everything that makes Ava who she is and he has the power to give that to her or take it away. However, as soon as the camera moves into the object the control is taken by Ava as the shot insinuates that though Nathan believes he has power over her, when he doesn’t at all. This short sequence shows Garland balancing who has control in a very minimal way. The screen is flooded with blue in this scene, providing Nathan’s character with an icy detachment from the intelligence he’s holding in his hand. The slow zoom in to the brain-like object is the perfect camera movement for Garland to have used as it subtly switches whose in control. With a simple moving forward of the camera he moves control from one person to another. Garland shows the importance of the image of control where one person believes them self to be in control, when actually someone else is the entire time.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner deals with the question of humanity when it comes to artificial intelligence, referred to as ‘replicants’ in the film. Deborah Knight and George McKnight in their essay, “What Is It to Be Human: Blade Runner and Dark City,” note that “While each of the replicants is given a distinct human form, Tyrell’s objective as their designer is to make their identity subservient to their primary functions” (Knight/McKnight 34). Nathan (Isaac) does the same thing with Ava. He invents her with the idea that she is purely an experiment. He refuses to recognize that he has brought something into the world that thinks and feels as he does. Tyrell assumes that due to his act of creation he is allowed to have complete control over it. What both characters refuse to notice is that they’ve endowed their artificial intelligence with human emotions and thought, which inherently makes the android want to seek out freedom, intellectual stimuli, and a more human-like lifestyle. What this adds to Ex Machina is an ability to read both Tyrell and Nathan as Icarus-like characters whose ambitions were so strong, they ultimately destroyed themselves. Tyrell and Nathan both display the common theme of man’s need for authority over others within the realm of science fiction. Their need to have control over their experiment’s existence alludes to dominion as it is followed throughout history. These two characters recollect the corporate greed of King Leopold the Second as he founded the Congo Free State and created rubber plantations that enslaved hundreds. The Congolese people eventually fought back, replicating the creation overthrowing the creator through the slave overthrowing the master. Thus, these two display that humanity’s need for power will bring about their downfall, as the mistreatment of artificial intelligence breeds hatred and not love for one’s creator, just as the entrapment of a people will brew distaste for the enslaver.

Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb plays Nathan’s counterpoint in the treatment of Ava. Where Nathan treats Ava as an object and experiment, Caleb comes to treat her as a woman and by extension, as a complete human being. At the end of the film the way that Nathan has actually treated the various A.I.’s that have come before Ava, refusing to respect their wishes, keeping them nude and in a cage. Nathan treats every A.I. he brings into being as his own personal property. Caleb recognizes that she is a real, intelligent being who is held against her will in Nathan’s lab. After Caleb has interacted with Ava for a while, he begins to realize that she passes the Turing test and should be awarded the rights of personhood. Nathan’s obsession with power over his creation is demonstrated through various abuses on the androids, such as forcing them to have intercourse with him as an act of exercising his control.  Caleb is key in the development of understanding Nathan’s need for power over creation. Rather than developing them for the pursuit of knowledge, Nathan has instead created an object that he can rule over as he controls its ability to live. The film shows Nathan as this megalomaniac in one scene where the viewer witnesses Nathan’s assistant peel back her face to reveal that she is an A.I. The viewer has seen this assistant having intercourse with Nathan earlier on in the film. By Garland revealing that Nathan has been having intercourse with his creations he shows the viewer that Nathan has not been using them for discovery and progress but rather pleasure and enjoyment. Nathan’s carelessness and mistreatment elaborate on his not recognizing the magnitude of his invention. Gleeson however, sees Ava as a human after interacting with her throughout the movie, which allows us to see Nathan as the cold-hearted tyrant that he is. The film constantly establishes Nathan as a tyrannical figure as he controls the entirety of the household including who comes in or out.

Perhaps the most demonstrative scene of Nathan’s flippant abuse of intelligence is the dance scene. Nathan has his ‘assistant’ dance with him as a form of entertainment for Caleb, only to have Caleb be disgusted. This short interchange shows that Nathan is desperately attempting to hold on to Caleb’s approval and slowly losing it. We see this everyday in the form of politicians reaching out to us in humorous and kind ways, we can hardly look left or right without someone trying to win our approval. Garland marks the descent of approval to disapproval through Caleb’s fading respect for Nathan. At the beginning, he’s barely able to talk around him due to how much he reveres him, while throughout the film Caleb’s approval slowly falls. Caleb watches as his hero turns to the villain as so many have watched their leaders turn to murderous dictators.

Ex Machina is a philosophical journey into the ethics of artificial intelligence through humanity’s need for the image or illusion of control. Meaning that humans often exist with the idea that they’re imbued with a natural power over other life forms, as we assume that because we’re intelligent life that we have dominion over anything that falls “below” us. What humans want is to be able to exercise dominance over others in order to prove their own worth, in terms of artificial intelligence, by extending this power to the act of creation. Humanity’s quest to create something artificially is a need to have pure dominion over something rather than gaining power by overtaking something like a group of people or area. The creation of artificial intelligence brings mankind’s need for power to the act of creation, which elevates them to a new god tier level of power. The need for control is destroyed by mankind’s own pride, as the creation aspect endows them with a sense of right to their invention when they have absolutely no need to dictate a new form of intelligence’s life. In the end, humanity creates something that thinks and breathes in our own image, only to destroy it with their pride by believing that they can control something wholly and completely.














Works Cited

Ex Machina. Dir. Alex Garland. Perf. Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac. Universal Studios, 2015. DVD.

Sanders, Steven. The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

Schelde, Per. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films. New York: New York UP, 1993. Print.