Even though I consider myself a near-expert on this film since I chose it for my exercises, Allison de Fren still teaches me about many new aspects of Ex Machina in her video essay. This new knowledge comes quickly in the form of voiceover – calm and measured, just like the background music. Right away, she hits me with “Most of the dialogue is composed of questions” and “Every question is a test for the characters but also the audience.” That was crazy for me to hear. I had not thought about it that way before, but it’s true. Before, I just wrote off the questioning style of the dialogue as true to the form of the Touring Test that Caleb, the main character, has to perform on Ava, the AI machine. It’s a test, so naturally, there should be questioning. But she’s right, the questioning goes so far beyond just the Touring Test; it permeates through virtually every conversation between Caleb and Nathan, the mastermind behind Ava, too. The movie is mainly a huge mind game that Nathan is playing on Caleb, but it is also a mind game that the movie is playing on the audience. We only come by crucial bits of information at the same time as Caleb does, with Nathan almost always five steps ahead. We have to ask questions in order to understand the movie at all, or else we would be lost.
Allison de Fren uses scenes to augment her voiceover, as a kind of explanatory mode. Once she brings up an idea, she explains it through the dialogue between characters; for example, when Nathan explains the Touring Test to Caleb. She tells us the facts first and explains through the scenes after, causing the viewer to glue their eyes to the screen; they don’t want to miss this chance to see Allison’s words proven visually. In this way, the video essay completely assumes the role of a teacher instructing viewers, it feels very explanatory, almost lecture-y, but mesmerizing, not dull. Her voiceover complements the movie so well since her lullingly smooth voice and pacing matches Ava’s robotic yet human voice. This video is so successful, I can’t begin to get into her use of outside sources; it just flows so seamlessly through even though the sources are so different. From connecting Ex Machina to Blade Runner to the Bechdel Test to citing pictures of reclining naked women in artwork throughout history. Adding these extra elements really convinced me of her point, just as if she were writing an essay on paper and gathered pieces of evidence from all over.
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