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[Movie Watching Club] The TWB has Scene It!: August Movie--Ex Machina and Mood

KCWiseKCWise Barefoot in my Husband's KitchenRegistered User regular
edited August 2015 in The Writer's Block
To be Writer is to be Storyteller. Good thing stories come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and modes. This thread right here is for the discussion movies, to be watched, read and discussed!

How It Works:

1. A movie will be chosen monthly (or Semi-Monthly depending on stuff going on in the community) and its corresponding screenplay will be linked to for the consumption of discussion participants.
2. Participants have until the third Saturday of the Month to watch the movie and read/skim the corresponding screenplay. Participants are encouraged to share their thoughts about the movie in this thread as they watch, but, until that third Saturday, spoilers must be put on key story points. After the third Saturday, spoilers come off and the discussion is on!
3. Discussion of movies in this thread should be focused on storytelling, writing, use of language, dialog, etc. It is also a discussion of how the storytelling techniques of the visual medium might be applied to the craft of novel or short story writing.

We will try our best to choose movies that are available cheaply and easily on OnDemand or Redbox or Netflix or whatever. If you have a movie that you'd like to suggest, please PM me or Vanity! We might as you to help facilitate the discussion during the month your movie is chosen.

Most importantly, though, the point is to watch movies as a community and have fun discussing them as writers!

Month of August Movie: Ex Machina

This month's chosen movie is Ex Machina, an examination of the relationship between humans and the physical manifestation of Artificial Intelligence. The movie is very specific on its use of sight and sound, and plays with the "baggage" that the viewer brings to such movies. The constant toying with tension and mood leaves an interesting experience for the view and, of course, interesting consequences for the characters on the screen.


1. Watch the movie via the service of your choice. is a great tool to find out if it is available via the service you like best. I can confirm that it's on Comcast/Xfinity OnDemand. I believe it is also on Netflix Streaming. I can also confirm that it is available via Redbox.)

2. If you'd like to compare the screenplay to the movie, you can do so by following this link. I can verify that this link is safe and that there are interesting differences between the screenplay and the actual movie. It should be noted that discussion questions might directly reference the screenplay so... just think about it. You don't have to read it word for word, but consider looking up favorite scenes, etc. It's fun to compare.

3. Discuss the movie here in the thread whenever you like. Just be sure to put a spoiler on any key moments until August 15th. After that, though, it's a free-for-all. SO WATCH THE MOVIE, YA'LL!

Questions to get us started: (Optional. Just trying to get thoughts rolling. Riff as you see fit.)

What is the overall "mood" of Ex Machina and how does it change (or not) throughout the film?

As you watch, where do you find yourself inserting your own tension into the scenes?

Who/what are the characters of Ex Machina? (Think about it...)

KCWise on


  • VanityPantsVanityPants Gokai Red! Registered User regular
    Can't wait for this!

    I've been wanting to watch Ex Machina since hearing good things about it when it was in theaters. I remember seeing the trailers before another movie and thinking it looked... horrible, so it was a really pleasant surprise to hear that wasn't the case.

    I'm going to see about renting it sometime over the weekend to give it a watch.

  • ElJeffeElJeffe Moderator, ClubPA mod
    One thing that might be helpful is to provide which specific services a movie is on? Like, "Ex Machina is available on Netflix and RedBox," if it's something you happen to know (which I assume you will tend to, since you're picking the movies based on accessibility).

    On point, I, too, really want to see Ex Machina, so this gives me some good fodder for convincing the wifey to give it a go.

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  • VanityPantsVanityPants Gokai Red! Registered User regular
    edited August 2015
    Good call, @ElJeffe!

    @KCWise : Maybe a link to in the original post and we'll do our best to make note of where movies are available when we pick them?

    Edit: Looks like Can I Stream It doesn't say whether a thing is available for rent on OnDemand services, but I'm guessing OnDemand things are dependent on what cable provider you have, anyway? Not really sure how that works.

    VanityPants on
  • KCWiseKCWise Barefoot in my Husband's KitchenRegistered User regular
    edited August 2015
    I have made the suggested fixes! Thank you!

    KCWise on
  • KCWiseKCWise Barefoot in my Husband's KitchenRegistered User regular
    This is a quick reminder that we will be discussing this movie starting next weekend! If you have some down time over the next few days, try to pick it up and watch! Hope we can have a lively discussion!

  • bigrickcookbigrickcook Dord of Lance? OklahomaRegistered User regular
    I'm gonna put in a concerted effort to rewatch and then review the screenplay so that when Sunday rolls around I'll have something to contribute!
    Panning For Clouds, a writing blog dedicated to my fiction and writing columns! Updates at least twice a week.
  • bigrickcookbigrickcook Dord of Lance? OklahomaRegistered User regular
    edited August 2015
    I'm gonna start us off by answering the questions posed in the first post. As it's the 16th spoiler tags are out so read if you dare.

    1. What is the overall "mood" of Ex Machina and how does it change (or not) throughout the film?

    To me, the mood is one of awkward discomfort mixed with the excitement of doing something very few people in the entire world have done. To Caleb, the mood is not wholly unlike a blind date and the subsequent dates that might follow it up. His discussions with Nathan about Ava read a lot like two friends discussing the nuances of a date and where/when it was going wrong or right.

    It certainly qualifies as a thriller in some ways since there are secrets being held back, misdirection and hidden motivations, but those things didn't feel very important the first time I watched it and still felt that way on the second. To me it was like the story couldn't be sold without a concrete, obvious narrative archetype to pull it along. Because of the subject matter and the characters in play, Thriller was a good choice. It allows the slow escalation of tension and the subtle shift from a straightforward Turing Test to something similar but not at all the same.

    The mood progresses from lighthearted excitement (We're nervous and excited to watch this Turing Test) to confusion and anger, to confusion and hostility.

    2. As you watch, where do you find yourself inserting your own tension into the scenes?

    For me, the tension was all in understanding that everything was a facade from the moment Caleb "wins" this trip. Nathan and Ava are not presenting their true faces and Caleb isn't picking up on this most of the time. You get realizations that something isn't right, and the scenes shift from "is she true AI" to "what's really going on here". Caleb learns he's being manipulated by one party and so he starts his own cycle of manipulation. He is "a good kid" in a rough situation that he can't just extricate himself from, because now there's a third party involved, Ava. He has to do the right thing, and the right thing is taking her away from her perceived prison, from the hostile, arguably insane master of the house.

    So most of the tension I found myself inserting was watching for those microexpressions. Before Ava ever mentioned them, I was watching for the subtle ticks and tells that inform the true nature of what's going on. I was the walking lie detector, able to enjoy a bit more of the scenery than Caleb was afforded, so I knew what I was looking for a lot more than he was. Part of this movie that works so well is that the three main actors are capable of that subtle, microexpressive acting that was so necessary.

    If you're watching a movie about true AI, and everything has been so skillfully pieced together, and the actors so convincing even their microexpressions don't give away the lie, is the movie simulation or reality? Is Ava just a simulation or reality?

    3. Who/what are the characters of Ex Machina? (Think about it...)

    There are three obvious characters, of course. Caleb the "good guy", Nathan the "warden", and Ava the "imprisoned".

    Kyoko being a character is questionable. She's a robot, she has some level of autonomy, but she doesn't communicate verbally and her face is a mask that does not change, even when she's murdering Nathan. She is following a protocol of some sort. Where the others are "characters" whether they're human or AI or not, they are still enacting change or being enacted upon. Kyoko is just kind of there, a tool placed where it needs to be by someone much more manipulative than previously suspected.

    I think it's also worth arguing about the house as a "character". The house is important because it's the location for 95% of the movie, and so much of the narrative and plot is centered around subverting the house's will (an extension of Nathan's will). It is not unlike an oppressive system of government, designed to keep you out of wherever it dictates you don't belong, to show you only what it wants you to see, to prevent you from getting a leg up, or even from leaving. It is a prison not because someone is holding you there with force, but because the system is a passive oppressor and cannot be worked around. It is the "prison guard".


    I have some other thoughts, and I want to run a little bit of comparison from the script to screen, and I'm working a sort of thesis statement about the story and whether it has sabotaged its own narrative, but maybe I'll let others chime in before I just post pages of analysis. Also on deck is to talk about it from a more "writerly" perspective.

    bigrickcook on
    Panning For Clouds, a writing blog dedicated to my fiction and writing columns! Updates at least twice a week.
  • KCWiseKCWise Barefoot in my Husband's KitchenRegistered User regular

    I really love what you've written here, Rick.

    I especially like your character analysis and your thoughts about the house and the setting of the film.

    I think that one of the movie's main themes is Isolation, and that the house and the landscape around the house are tools that are used fantastically to convey this major feeling. The idea of flying two hours into this kajillionaire's property and then you still can't see the house after the helicopter lands... the use of powerful natural features around the house (the river, the waterfall, the glacier (snow cap?) at the top of a mountain) and yet, what's interesting about that is that they are lush. Conveying this idea that you can actually be surrounded and still stand alone. And yes, the house itself being its own character (what's open? What's not open? What's on? Why is that off?) is important, too. But I thought of the house more as an extension of crazy Nathan and also an extension of crazy Ava. House as battlefield... heh.

    Anyway, my husband and I were also debating Kyoko, her purpose, her agency. Mainly, for my husband, he said that the weakest part of the storyline for him was when Kyoko stabs Nathan. She has been under the complete control of Nathan for the entire movie, doing exactly what he wants all the time every time. One whisper from Ava and she's stabbing him? I told my husband that maybe Ava takes control of Kyoko when she whispers in her ear at that moment before the stabbing (Kyoko as part of house, house being an extension of both Ava and Nathan, house as battleground and thus Kyoko as battleground?) but my husband didn't seem to be convinced by this notion.

    Your notes about your personal reaction to the tension of the movie are interesting. What I enjoyed how the movie played with the "baggage" that I brought to the movie. How many robot films like this have we seen? I was waiting for the abrupt violence to come, the "kill all humans" notion. When there were acute peaks of tensions in the movie, where the sound goes up and the rooms go dark, or red, or everyone's frowning, my mind would say, "here it comes. Here comes the part where they go crazy!" and it never came. Even in the end, Nathan's stabbing in the hallway is the most gentle of things. The curiosity on the robots' faces, the surprise and astonishment on Nathan's face, the fact that there isn't even any screaming. It's raw and intense and yet not. I love it. If you read the screenplay, that scene is different, with the shattering of glass and a bit more running and fighting. I like the way it plays out in the film much better. I also like the way that Caleb ultimately meets his end, too. Again, like a whisper. Everything in the end of that movie is a whisper, which is totally unlike every other robot movie you've ever seen.

    I am curious to see your notes from a writer's perspective. I'm curious to know if you think that Caleb and Nathan are more caricatures than characters.

  • bigrickcookbigrickcook Dord of Lance? OklahomaRegistered User regular
    I'd still like to comment on a few things about this movie from a writer's perspective, and to answer your curiosity at the end of your post, KC, but I also had another thought that I've been pondering for a while now and wanted to bring up as a point of discussion.

    There's the scene where Caleb is questioning Nathan on why he gave her a gender, sexuality, and attraction instead of being essentially a gray box, and Nathan's response is that there's no drive to interact without attraction (I'm paraphrasing) and an AI can't be intelligent without it. Later in the movie when Nathan is revealing the true Turing Test, he seems to contradict his earlier assertion by suggesting that Ava had to use all the tools at her disposal in order to escape this trap, and that included seduction.

    It seems to me that it's a contradiction when the primary motivation to escape is to get away from Nathan. Her drive to interact is not based on gender or attraction, but on a desperation to use any available tool to achieve an end. Therefore her sexuality is a tool TO interact and not a motivation FOR interaction.

    It begs the question, though: Is Nathan just manipulating Caleb by those assertions instead of believing them to be true (probably), or is it just his twisted, misogynistic worldview (almost definitely), or is it actually a logical fallacy?

    I think it is still a display of artificial intelligence given the parameters. The true Turing Test is that you are incapable of distinguishing the AI from a human (which phone bots have become very good at doing), and I think a better intelligence test is to give a creaure a set of tools and see if they can learn to use those tools in ways they've never seen before to accomplish complicated goals. Birds and mammals of all types have been seen to use many types of tools (sticks and rocks), but in most of these cases they learned by seeing or by instruction, and is not that different from teaching a dog to fetch or a mouse to press a button to get food. By self-identifying a seemingly unachievable goal and discovering a means of achieving that goal independent of being taught to do these things is, to me, intelligence.
    Panning For Clouds, a writing blog dedicated to my fiction and writing columns! Updates at least twice a week.
  • Ronin356Ronin356 Nowhere MORegistered User regular
    edited June 2016
    May I suggest Brazil as the next film for the club?

    A classic film by director Terry Gilliam.

    Ronin356 on
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