Redemption Of The Machine
The history of special revelation (ht: Vos) begins in a garden. Man was created, as image of God, in a garden. It was in this garden-temple that the serpent came to man and promised him more: he would not merely image God, he could become a god himself. As man rebelled against God as usurper, he waged war against heaven trying to reverse the natural order, the Creator-creature distinction. While mankind had the ability to create, to create life was left in the ability of God. To create life is an attainment of divinity that man, in his rebellion, dreams of. That the creature becomes Creator is a metanarrative that gets at the heart of the movie ex_machina.
[Contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.]
We’ve seen similar stories before. Frankenstein is a story about a mad scientist creating life. The Terminator stories are based in a world where machines with state-of-the-art AI gain consciousness and turn against mankind. Ex Machina brings the mad scientist into the tech world: the state-of-the-art AI is designed to become conscious, to become alive. Nathan, the creator, brings a techie from his company, Caleb, to test out his AI, Eva. The movie centers around the relationship of these three individuals.
As the creation of man took place in the midst of a beautiful garden, the creation of Eva also takes place in the midst of a paradise. Instead of a garden-temple, however, this creation takes place in a research facility. While the God of the Scriptures creates ex-nihilo (out of nothing), mankind in his quest to become a god must create in a lab. That the lab is set in a paradise echoes back to the original creation. To create life is a beautiful thing, and it is fitting that it happens in the midst of beauty. Whether or not Nathan had divinity in mind as he designed this AI is unclear, but it he becomes self-aware of this when Caleb tells him: “If you’ve created a conscious machine it’s not the history of man, that’s the history of gods.” Nathan later recalls this statement differently: “If I’ve invented a machine with consciousness, I’m not a man, I’m God.” Whether or not Nathan originally had this in mind, he becomes very comfortable with the idea as the movie progresses, which echoes the promise of the serpent. To create is human (as image of God); to create life belongs exclusively to God.
As the story continues, we later see Eva becoming conscious of her attraction to Caleb. Caleb objects to Nathan and asks if it was necessary to give her a gender and suggests that he could have created the AI as a “grey box”. Nathan asks the question, “Can you give an example of consciousness at any level, human or animal, that exists without a sexual dimension?...What imperative does a grey box have to interact with another grey box? Can consciousness exist without interaction?” Eva’s gender is a part of her reality, part of who she is when she interacts with others. Not everything is sexual (as she has a relationship akin to that of a daughter with Nathan), but gender is still important. This becomes very relevant to the story as she starts to bond with Caleb. This relationship echoes back to the original creation as well, it was not good that man was alone. Mankind was created in relationship and this is a necessary component to consciousness, even at a Creator-creature level.
No creation story would be complete without temptation, sin, and fall; those are present in ex_machina too. As Eva and Caleb begin to bond, the reality that the life-giver will end her life in pursuit of a better version becomes apparent to her, and a conspiracy is born. Nathan made Caleb sign a nondisclosure agreement, and helping Eva to escape would certainly break the terms of that agreement and betray Nathan, to usurp his sovereign authority as creator. Nathan, who has state of the art surveillance (in place of omniscience), knows all of this and sets out a test for Caleb. This relationship echoes back to creation, where the terms of the covenant of creation between God and man had a test, or probation, at their center. Just as Eva would set out to tempt Caleb to betray Nathan, so the serpent set out to tempt Adam to betray God. Mankind was created in submission to the authority of God, their creator, and seeking to overturn this relationship is to be a usurper, to be in treason against God.
As the story continues, Eva finally escapes and raises herself against Nathan. As the struggle climaxes between the two, Eva strikes him down in a death blow. In order to free herself from the control of Nathan, she must ascend above her creator to take his authority from him. This echoes Calvary as the serpent reached up to ascend the mountain of God as its sovereign by crucifying Jesus Christ, the God-man, and freeing himself of God’s authority in the death of God. Much like the serpents willingness to use man as a pawn to accomplish his own ends, Eva was using Caleb as a pawn to accomplish her own end, and she would leave him for dead as she did her creator, Nathan.
It is here that the two stories cease to be comparable with similarities and are held strictly in contrast, but it is also the fantastic end that rebellious creation has always dreamt of. Eva walks away from the paradise-lab as the slayer of God, she is her own sovereign. In Ex Machina we see the glory of man creating life, becoming God, having its creation rebel against them and walk off victorious, as the new god. This is the fantasy of Satan and mankind, and it will always remain fantasy. Redemptive history does climax in the death of the God-man, but it culminates in the story of God who dies and is raised from the dead. The Creator-King conquers death and subdues his enemies. In Ex Machina, the usurpers win. In redemptive history, God wins. What becomes of the usurpers in redemptive history? As the God-man conquered death, and condemns the serpent who led mankind astray, forgiveness and restoration are offered. Those rebels who repent are welcomed back and united to the God-man as sons of God, who will reign forever as kings of the new creation. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it is also better than fiction.
ex_machina is no analogy of redemptive history, but as with all good stories (and it is a good story), there are elements of the metanarrative of mankind, the history of special revelation. There are common themes that we continually recreate in our stories, and this is good. There are always elements of truth in our fiction. This is why we enjoy good stories, because we always create from things we know, and all mankind know their Creator. The best story, however, is always the one told by the master storyteller: God. I have tried to bring out some of the themes from ex_machina that help tell that story.
The movie is a beautiful movie, visually and experientially. It brings up many ethical questions about science and technology, as well as a lot of the existential angst that is a normal part of the human experience. The visuals are breathtaking and the story is haunting, though not classically scary. It’s worth watching and enjoying, and at the end of the day, makes me excited about the future of technology. It is a story about friendship, duty, ethics, and the struggle of man to become more. I can’t wait to watch it again.