In her debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, Helen Wecker crafts a tale of two magical creatures who find themselves amongst the large mass of immigrants in 19th century New York City. Chava is a golem crafted from clay, recently created because golems are naturally bound to servitude and her master wanted an obedient wife. When her master dies at sea, Chava finds herself in the city all alone.
Meanwhile, a tinsmith in Little Syria is busily fixing a copper flask when a young man suddenly leaps out of it. The man reveals himself as Ahmad, a jinni entirely made of fire. Ahmad had been trapped in the flask for the past century and was now finally set free by the tinsmith. Given their newfound freedom, Chava and Ahmad must try to settle into human guises and make a living for themselves in this strange new city. Chava takes up a position at a bakery, and a kind Rabbi who knows about her supernatural nature gives her housing. Ahmad voluntarily works for the tinsmith who freed him to keep himself occupied.
One fateful night, Chava and Ahmad cross paths. As soon as they meet, they immediately recognize each other’s magical nature and are warily drawn to each other. Due to this curiosity and the relief in knowing they are not the only supernatural beings in the city, Chava and Ahmad begin to take nightly strolls together and form a tentative friendship. They talk about their struggles in fitting in to this human society.
Ahmad is an ancient, restless creature who grows impatient each day with what he perceives as the monotony around him. He longs to go back to the desert and be with his own people, but he must first try to find a way to return to his full original form. Chava, however, is extremely new to the world and is deeply overwhelmed by it. She throws herself into her work to build a routine and be able to serve others. Despite their differences, Chava and Ahmad both find it easy to speak freely with each other, even though it leads to heated arguments. The main questions explored in the novel arise through conversations. What does it mean to be a human being? How does one control primitive instincts while assimilating to a new world? Is there a middle ground between free will and submission to fate?
As the novel unfolds, Chava and Ahmad interact with a variety of background characters who each carry their own vibrant stories. There is Mahmoud the ice cream maker, a long dead Bedouin girl, an heiress named Sophia, and a cunning wizard named Schaalman. All of these characters seem unrelated to each other at first, but their story-lines all eventually tie together through unexpected and sometimes dramatic revelations. Wecker does an excellent job at building up the story’s main conflict and resolving it in a refreshing and inventive way. The lives of Chava and Ahmad remain extremely intriguing to the very end of the book, but the author still gives us a satisfying amount of closure with their fate.
As an avid reader of fantasy novels, I can attest to the fact that most of them are mainly based on European/Western legends and mythology. That’s why I found The Golem and the Jinni to be a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre; it focuses on magical elements from other cultures that haven’t been nearly as ambitiously explored. Through the titular characters of The Golem and the Jinni, Wecker draws upon Jewish mysticism and Arabian mythology respectively. She takes inspiration from these stories, adding her own thoughtful ideas and interpretations into the creation of these creatures and the laws that bind them. The different narratives are neatly woven together in a “story within a story” format that reminds me quite a bit of the tales from One Thousand and One Nights. The enchantingly vivid imagery and careful world-building are reminiscent as well.
The Golem and the Jinni is a gripping and dazzling tale filled with magic, adventure, and danger. However, it is also much more than that. It is a book that raises profoundly philosophical questions about faith, culture, society, and most importantly, the immigrant experience. Even though Chava and Ahmad are powerful magical creatures, they are also immigrants in an overwhelming city. Throughout the course of their experiences, they both must figure out how to stay true to their roots while they attempt to create a new life for themselves in this city they now hesitantly call home.
Have you ever felt like you’ve lost something and won’t ever be able to find it? That’s the feeling I had when I watched Kimi no Na wa, or Your Name, directed by Makoto Shinkai.
Your Name opens with a classic body swap between Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana, two Japanese teenagers who wake up in each other’s bodies. Mitsuha lives in rural Itomori with her grandmother and younger sister, while Taki resides in Tokyo with his father. In the beginning, their struggles to adjust to each other’s lives are amusing, but their relationship blossoms when Taki is introduced to the culture and rituals of the Miyamizu family. Mitsuha and Taki attempt to meet face-to-face later on, and the repercussions of this final test will resonate with them for years to come.
In short,I highly recommend this movie. It’s one of the best anime films I’ve ever seen. I went in thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen, and came out wondering what kind of magic the production team had conjured behind the scenes. The following paragraphs are my attempt to piece things together. They contain SPOILERS, so I recommend watching the movie before reading on.
The significance of names is prominent throughout the film, as names are keys to memory. Without a person’s name, you can’t link them explicitly to a solid memory or image. Furthermore, emotions and impressions can change more drastically without a name to tie them together, like when you wake up from a dream that dissipates before you can put it into words.
The first time Taki writes in Mitsuha’s notebook, asking “Who are you?” Mitsuha-in-Taki’s-body writes her name on his left hand with a black marker. The second time we see Mitsuha’s name written down is in her diary, which stresses the importance of her name as part of her identity. Taki attempts to understand her by using her name as his first point of entry.
At twilight, in the film’s climax, Mitsuha and Taki finally meet face-to-face. But the magic fades before they can write their names on each other’s hands, and their memories of each other fade as well. When twilight is over, they return to their own misaligned timelines and give up the most important thing to them—their memories of each other.
According to Mitsuha’s grandmother, everything, including the flow of time, can be represented in the braided cords. The cords break, come undone, and then reunite. Time can similarly be unravelled, cut, then joined with strands which may otherwise never meet. In a way, water or sake and the braided cords all represent the flow of time. They encompass the various ways one can transfer something onto something else, such as: water from one destination to another, objects from one location to another, and the braided cords from one person to another. As water binds to the body, then to the soul, the braided cords bind the body and soul of its owners, joining them inseparably.
The red braid Mitsuha passes to Taki symbolizes the depth of their relationship, which will stay constant even if their connection breaks physically. By giving it to him, she is joining her future and her past with his own. The end of the film emphasizes this inseparable connection when the two are reunited despite the loss of their memories of each other. When they see each other while on separate trains, they’re moving in opposite directions, almost as if the strength of their bond shifted time itself to bring them together again—Mitsuha from the past, and Taki from the future – therefore, representing the triumph of personal connection over time’s unpredictable flow.
As I watched Your Name, I felt as if I had lost a piece of myself in the vivid art, music, and storytelling of a wonderful masterpiece. There would always be a part of me reliving the events of the tale, wondering if I’d ever be able to fully grasp the intricate threads that were woven into the narrative, and secretly hoping that I’d always keep searching.
With a wealth of sci-fi movies about the future, the trope of a society which suppresses the emotions of its citizens has become so frequent that watching them is like playing a game of spot-the-differences. In this sea of similarities, there are a few that stand out for their excellence (and some for their failures). Not many make their way into the grey zone of uncertainty, but the sci-fi dystopian romance Equals fits in there quite comfortably. Contrary to what reviewers will tell you, it’s a movie that will leave an impression—just not for the reasons one might expect.
The movie tells the story of a post-apocalyptic society in which all illnesses have been cured except one: Switched-On Syndrome, called S.O.S for short, which causes infected people to experience hypersensitivity and emotions. The infected go through four stages, after which they are taken to a special care facility and isolated from the rest of society. There they undergo electrical shock treatment to be “cured”.
The protagonist of the movie is an illustrator named Silas, who discovers that he has this very illness. The movie follows the story of how he copes with the illness, and how it transforms him into the kind of person we would encounter in today’s society: laughing, crying, and feeling sad, but above all: falling in love. The subject of his affections is his co-worker Nia, a writer, and the two struggle to find a way to maintain their relationship in a society where emotions are frowned upon and any intimate physical contact is a sign the illness has reached its peak.
Unlike most dystopian movies, Equals doesn’t begin with the familiar prologue of how humans were on the verge of destroying each other before some organization stepped in and stopped them. In fact, the movie does very little to provide even a vague framework of why things are the way they are. There is a brief mention of a war and how only two populations managed to survive, but beyond that nothing else is revealed; no details of the vaguely-described bombings or why it was decided that emotions are a hindrance.
The positive result of this decision is that viewers can focus on the relationship between Silas and Nia without worrying about extraneous details. In this sense, Equals has a rather minimalistic approach to its storyline. The plot only contains the details that are deemed most necessary. This will prove challenging for an attentive viewer who hates loopholes and loose ends, as there are quite a few of both that pop up over the course of the movie. For instance, a whole scene is devoted to citizens sitting in an outdoor amphitheatre to watch the landing of a spacecraft. The broadcast states that space exploration has always been important, but why this is the case is never specified, and the topic is never touched on again.
Similarly, the documentaries that Silas illustrates for the company are given no context, while the articles Nia writes are given no more than a few brief mentions. All of these are missed opportunities in the end, for if there’s one thing the reviews are accurate about, it’s the fact that Equals brings barely any innovation to the sci-fi genre.
What makes the movie memorable and worth seeing? If there is something that director Drake Doremus was able to do beautifully, it was the minimalist aesthetics. The movie is a true wonder from an artistic and architectural perspective, all straight lines and pale lighting that accentuates the paleness of the actors. The entire movie is shot in a cool colour scheme with white and grey as the dominant colours. Some shots integrate Instagram-like filters and effects similar to a ray of sunshine across the screen. This is where Kristen Stewart’s typically expressionless face lights up, like a subject stepping out of a painting.
The movie lays out all its cards from the beginning, and it is up to the viewer to decide what to make of the story of Silas and Nia’s romance. The Shakespearean twist near the end will come across as cliché for some, though I admit I sat and yelled at the screen for the two of them not to repeat the same mistake.
It’s a movie that won’t leave an immediate impression. It’s not one that can be readily talked about—much is left to the eyes and ears to experience, though some thought provoking moments do swim up at times. Equals is what you make of it, leaving a lot of unexplained ambiance, a cliffhanger ending, and a mostly unexplained title. The rest is left up to the imagination, and to how much one is invested in Silas and Nia’s journey.
In the realm of inferior movies there is a special category reserved for movies that are unsatisfactory despite their captivating and deceptively convincing trailers. Passengers is a new addition to this category, for despite its adrenaline-filled trailers that bombarded TV screens several weeks before its release, it leaves its audience with a bitter aftertaste that makes one think, “I could’ve written a much better space-romance than that.”
As the space-romance begins, the viewer finds themselves instantly thrown into a tumultuous story aboard the starship “Avalon,” which is flying through space on autopilot, navigating cosmic debris and asteroids. It is one of these asteroids that breaks through the defensive shield causing the ship to “rock”—already a rather unconvincing plot detail considering that the ship seems to have flown seamlessly for 30 years—and wakes Jim Preston from his hibernation pod.
Considering this is yet another space movie featuring Chris Pratt, one might expect him to be somewhat akin to Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy: clever, quirky, quick on his feet. However, when creating Preston’s character, it is as though the producers forgot all these things, resulting in him being, conveniently, an engineer that lacks a personality. His role does not go far beyond attempting to break open the door to the command center and to ultimately assume roles as a welder, botanist, jeweller, and stereotypical I-will-save-the-world hero. The only backstory he receives is that he could barely afford the ticket, but decided to leave Earth in an attempt to start a new life.
After Preston struggles over the course of a year with being alone on the ship and even contemplating suicide, the movie comes to what is the biggest and most problematic aspect of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane. It isn’t so much the fact that Aurora is, like Preston, a monochrome character, or the fact that she’s yet another example of a writer who writes to achieve fame (and also happens to be from New York, and have a rich and well-known writer for a father). The problem is more in the way in which she appears in the plot.
This is where the biggest source of anger and disappointment lies. The trailers present Passengers as a romantic story of two people who happened to wake up together and find themselves trying to save the spaceship, and in doing so, fall in love. In reality however, it is Preston who “wakes up” Aurora Lane by meddling with her hibernation pod.
Preston’s explanation for this is the inability to cope with his loneliness—his only other constant companion being the robot bartender Arthur—and despite how horrible his actions are, one can understand the motivation behind them. However, the way in which he specifically “chooses” Aurora—by accidentally coming across her pod, finding her attractive, looking up an interview with her and declaring that she is the woman of his dreams—raises eyebrows and exasperates.
This development overshadows the rest of the movie, and drastically changes the atmosphere. The viewer is put in the position of judging Preston’s decision. We’re left wondering when he’ll tell her, and then choosing sides when the truth comes out, and ultimately imposing a “final verdict” depending on which character’s side they choose.
However, even the morality issues of the movie are overshadowed by the scientific inaccuracies, despite the absolute frequency of the moral dilemmas. It is a movie that exasperates not only those of science and engineering backgrounds but even general viewers having some knowledge in the field. Examples, such as flying past a burning planet, catch the eye of an audience who know that in real life the ship would be pulled towards the planet by its force of gravity.
Other glaring errors in logic are difficult to forgive even in a sci-fi fantasy movie: scenes such as Aurora floating in a water bubble and not drowning, or Preston surviving a massive flame without even minor damage to his space suit. It goes without saying that some semblance of scientific law and common sense is appreciated. For this reason, scenes like the ending lose their sentimental touch, instead provoking a stream of questions like “wait, what is that tree growing on? And how are all these animals surviving?”
The one positive of this movie, which can also be interpreted as a negative by some, is how easily it opens up the debate on morals and what constitutes romance (although the faulty science still looms in the background as another big topic of discussion). While Preston is easily criticisable for his decision to awaken Aurora, one can counter by saying that she got the adventure she was hoping for, a bigger one than spending a 240 days in hibernation flying to a space colony. The way the viewer interprets the movie is a demonstration of their thought processes.
The movie is viewed differently by different age groups. Teenagers and young adults might see it as a destruction of dreams and the snatching away of possibilities, similar to the way in which Aurora often accused Preston of doing so. Some adults, however, will argue that it is a movie that counters the ‘dream big’, ‘dream without limits’ ideology by showing that not all people can have their dreams fulfilled; a fact that is very much a part of reality and that which is still reluctantly acknowledged by the entertainment industry.
What I got out of this movie is that capitalism is scary, business comes first and foremost, and that if I were in the movie I wouldn’t get onto the Avalon even if they paid me. (Also that writers aren’t always weak and can actually swing sledgehammers or beat-up the jerks that ruin their lives.) Other than that, Passengers was a source of disappointment and emotional discomfort, with a bland storyline, shallow characters, a “romance” that is neither believable nor right, and an ending that makes one reach for a pen and paper and yell “I can do better!”
There are several authors and artists who I have long admired from afar but never dreamed of one day actually talking to and knowing a little better. Kimberly Karalius is one of those people, an author whom I’ve admired greatly from the first story of hers that I read.
It began in what feels like ages ago, 2011, when I joined an online writing community called Figment, where people post what they write and can read each other’s writing, post comments, and often develop some lovely friendships. I don’t remember exactly how I came upon Kimberly’s profile, but I will always remember the fascination I felt after I finished reading “The Princess and Her Shadow,” a short story that encouraged my own entrance into the world of whimsical writing.
Now, several years later, Kimberly has since published a couple of books, and I finally worked up the nerve to talk to my role model, giving me a chance to find out the answers to some burning questions I’ve had all these years.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How and when did you come to consider writing as a possible career?
Around high school. Before then, I was obsessed with cartoons and dreamed of turning my stories into comics and TV shows. I joined the high school newspaper as an editorial cartoonist but ended up falling in love with the written word. The more I wrote, the more I realized that this was the medium that worked best for me (though I still doodle and sketch, of course!) I discovered that I enjoyed writing novels more than anything and knew it was what I wanted to do.
What would you say is the most difficult part of being a writer?
The double-edged sword of telling people I’m a writer. On one hand, it’s so fun to reveal what feels like a delicious secret and get to talk about books and writing and all that good stuff. On the other hand, it can sometimes get awkward when I meet non-readers, especially people that visibly cringe when they hear “teen fiction” or “fantasy.” (Yes, that happens!)
This is a cruel question, but if you had to choose a favourite character, setting, and detail from any story you’ve written, what would they be?
My favourite character so far is Stig Hemming from Pocket Forest; he’s like a deer, easily frightened and doe-eyed. I don’t blame Harriet at all for trying to figure him out. My favourite setting is the Student Housing Complex in Love Fortunes and Other Disasters. Seeing Fallon, as well as the other students attending high school, make her own home away from home there was exciting to create on the page. My favourite detail is the way the canal cruise booth looks in Love Fortunes and Other Disasters. Nico’s family owns the most popular canal cruise business in Grimbaud, but he’s usually on ticket-selling duty at the booth: it’s a striped booth with a statue of a mermaid squeezing a heart in each hand. No one in his family remembers why the statue is there or what it symbolizes, so it becomes a point of speculation for many of the townspeople.
Another cruel one—what are three books you cannot go without or would consider to be the biggest influences on you?
The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake—I’m counting this as one book since my copy has all three books bound together. Peake is a huge influence on my writing and I can’t imagine going anywhere without creepy-wonderful Steerpike, fanciful Fuchsia, or fluttering Doctor Prunesqualler. Peake’s characters are strange and his writing is lush, like a painter swirling layers of meaning and mood on each page.
Echo by Francesca Lia Block—by far my favourite Block book. I’ve been reading Block since I discovered her in junior high; she was my first introduction to magical realism, a subgenre that I love dearly and love to write in. The characters and imagery are fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book.
The Complete Fairy Tales by George MacDonald—I love fairy tales, but my favourite fairy tale author is George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblin is beyond amazing, but I chose this collection because I love his smaller fairy tales as much as the longer ones. And there are so many good ones collected in this Penguin edition like The Light Princess—it always makes my heart race!
Do you constantly have a desire to write or do you find that some days you’re forcing yourself?
It varies from day to day. Sometimes I’ll wake up itching to turn on my laptop and start typing. Other days, I have to sit myself down and hope words appear on the document. Totally normal. Writers don’t write in a void; that means that life can be a big distraction. My mind might be cluttered with thoughts of paying bills, upcoming events, or what my dog is likely doing while I’m at work (sleeping, I bet). But ideas come from life, even the mundane tasks, so it’s important to pay attention—and then, on hard days, find time to write in the spaces between.
Have you ever had to deal with hurtful negative criticism?
Absolutely. It just comes with the territory. When Love Fortunes and Other Disasters hit bookstores in May 2015, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the reviews. When I read negative reviews, some were harder to swallow than others. I’m happy to say that it gets easier as time passes and the thrill of having your debut book published softens. It’s impossible to make every reader happy; they bring themselves into each book they read, and that’s a great thing. Hearing from readers who connected and enjoyed my stories means even more now than it ever did.
What influenced your writing style to create such whimsical and intricate stories?
Fairy tales and cartoons. When I was little, I knew what kinds of stories I loved and devoured as many of them as I could. I loved reading or watching my favourite fairy tales being retold over and over. My favourite cartoons were the weird ones, like Courage the Cowardly Dog and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. I also watched a lot of anime and read a ton of manga, big influences on how much fun it is for me to blend magic with reality.
Have you ever scrapped a story idea? If so, have any parts of it been “recycled,” or are they perhaps still waiting for their time in the spotlight?
Oh, definitely. I have folders with stories I wrote back in middle school that I still hope to recycle someday, if not pick right back up where I left off! The only story ideas I end up scrapping are ones that I’ve only toyed with it my head. If it makes it on paper, I’ll use some piece of it someday in a story.
How do you usually come up with ideas for a story? What does your creative process usually look like?
My story ideas usually start with little pieces of ideas—a half-eaten sandwich, a shipwreck, a girl with three legs—that I start stitching together. The fun is in the challenge and it also helps that I never say no to any ideas when I’m first starting out with drafting. Once I’ve got my characters and plot, I’ll sometimes make character boards and jot down notes. But I’m a “pantser,” mostly. I only outline a chapter or two ahead as I write the first draft, but I’m trying to outline more with future projects to see what that’s like.
Your first novella, Pocket Forest, is not very well known, but the first print run sold out within hours. What was the experience like? Was it the first book/story you got published?
Technically, yes, Pocket Forest is my first published book. Deathless Press is a small publisher that prints handmade fairy tale chapbooks. Chapbooks are usually under 10,000 words and poetry, though I’m happy to see that prose is starting to make a space for itself in the chapbook world. After I submitted my manuscript and Deathless Press said they wanted to publish the story, I worked with the editor to revise it. Our changes truly made Harriet and Stig’s journey all the better. The best part was the handmade aspect. I still have a few copies of them hidden away in my closet. They’re very tiny, delicate books with a splash of colour on the inside from unique endpapers. Even though the print edition sold out so quickly, the e-book version is still available on Amazon.
What served as inspiration for Love Fortunes and Other Disasters, if anything?
Love Fortunes and Other Disasters began from some silly conversations I had with my friends and fellow English majors in college. We used to lament the fact that girls severely outnumbered boys on campus, so we planned to become glamourous spinsters after graduation (with mansions, butlers, and cats… well, dogs for me. I’m a dog person). I wanted to put that idea into a book, but I knew it would be challenge since I wanted to write young adult fiction. With their whole lives ahead of them, why would teenagers worry about the possibility of spinsterhood or bachelorhood? The answer to that question became Grimbaud, the Town of Love, and Zita’s 100% accurate love fortunes.
Did you ever base your characters on people you know?
Not usually. I’m sure pieces and scraps of people I know end up in my characters, but I don’t do it consciously. I like to create characters from scratch; it helps me explore them. Developing my characters would be a lot harder if I was picturing my next-door neighbour or a high school crush!
The queer relationship with Nico and Martin—was that planned, or did it evolve over the course of writing and editing?
From the second Nico was born in my head, I knew he was gay and that he was in love with a boy who might not be. He made it easy for me; at times, I had to remind myself that this was Fallon’s story, since writing about Nico’s struggles with love was such fun. It was very important to me to make sure that diverse couples were represented in Grimbaud. The town is accepting of all love. Boys liking boys and girls liking girls? Just part of everyday life.
Of course, Grimbaud has its own prejudices and problems, but most of that stems from the townspeople’s fear of being alone. It’s scary for them to imagine not finding love in the Town of Love, and anyone not dating is looked upon with suspicion or outright confusion. When Fallon joins the rebellion, she and her fellow teens are fighting against that fear and way of thinking as they challenge Zita’s love fortunes.
I loved how sweet and heartwarming Fallon and Sebastian’s relationship is. Do you think that kind of genuine, perhaps old-school romance is still popular in fiction or is it disappearing?
Thank you! It’s hard to say if it’s disappearing or not. I think it depends on the type of story authors are writing. For me, the nature of Fallon and Sebastian’s relationship was clear from the start. Being set in a town like Grimbaud fostered that kind of old-school relationship, since it’s a town where sweetness is expected, along with a certain naivety that is both a strength and weakness for the town.
Do you have any projects planned after you finish telling the story of Fallon and the gang?
Yes, plenty more! I’m currently working on my next project for Swoon Reads. Which, I must say, does not have love charms or tape recorders in it.
Is there something you think people wouldn’t know or expect about you?
As clean and age-appropriate as my stories have been, I’m not-so-secretly a fan of gory horror and suspense, usually mashed together in anthology TV series. It started with watching Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Now I’m proud to say I’ve watched every episode of Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt. I haven’t finished Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone yet, but I’m slowly working through them. I love the twists in these episodes, the shock of not seeing a character death coming or the mysterious ways in which characters get what they wish for—or don’t.
Somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska there is a house, and inside that house are four people. At least one of these people is not human, but a robot. Over the course of a single week, the occupants must determine if this robot is a living, thinking thing, or just an illusion of consciousness.
This is the barest plot description possible of Alex Garland’s Ex_Machina, a film with an incredibly tight cast including only four actors (only three of whom have speaking roles) who appear in only a single setting throughout the film. The film is not only entertaining, tense, intelligent, and beautifully shot, but it might also just be the best philosophical movie about robots since Blade Runner.
In the not so distant future, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is an employee of Bluebook, the biggest and most powerful internet search engine in the world. When Caleb wins a company prize, he is flown out to the secluded mansion of the company’s founder and CEO to work with him on a mysterious project for one week.
Once he is let into the vast, urban-style house, he meets Nathan (the wonderful Oscar Isaac). Nathan is the genius who created Bluebook when he was a child. He is an eccentric, mysterious, and slightly threatening figure. Other than Nathan and Caleb, the only person in the house is Nathan’s maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who does not speak.
Between black-out drinking and a confusing sense of humor, Nathan expresses that he needs Caleb’s help to prove that he has created artificial intelligence.
Enter: Ava (Alicia Vikander). Each day, Caleb is to have a conversation with Ava in order to perform a Turing test, the measure of whether a machine exhibits intelligence convincingly, as though it has consciousness of its own.
Ava’s body is made of glass and metal, but her face appears to be flesh, as if it were a completely human face. Even at first glance, Ava’s inhumanity is clear. But this doesn’t discount her status as a living thing. Both wise and naïve, Ava exists as an adult with an adult’s body and understanding, but apparently without experience. She is instantly likable and sweet, but a little unnerving.
Caleb asks her questions, Ava answers. Ava asks her own questions, a surprised Caleb answers. Nathan watches through cameras.
As the movie progresses, the house begins to experience power outages. Through silent tension, the feeling begins to grow that something is not what it seems to be. Ava concurs. When a power outage occurs during one of Caleb and Ava’s sessions, she takes the opportunity to tell Caleb not to trust Nathan. He is not his friend. As Caleb falls in love with Ava, and is disillusioned and unnerved by Nathan, he plans their escape.
I am not going to delve much further into the plot of the movie, because if you haven’t seen it, then you deserve to experience what happens yourself. Instead, we should examine two complex themes explored in this movie.
One issue of the film is female objectification. When you squint, this movie is literally about two male characters objectifying and dehumanizing a female character. Nathan comes from a twisted yet familiar brand of misogyny. To him, Ava is not a person. He acknowledges that she is a thinking, feeling being with wants and needs of her own, while simultaneously refusing to treat her as such. Nathan keeps Ava locked up in the basement of the house, studying her like a rat.
Nathan admittedly has no intention of keeping Ava alive. He tells Caleb that he is going to destroy her and create a newer model, but that he wants to keep the body because it’s a “good body.” Although he is responsible for creating her mind, to Nathan, Ava is only a body. In a disturbing conversation, Nathan tells Caleb that Ava’s body was designed to be sexually capable.
Caleb, on the other hand, displays a type of misogyny that is not often acknowledged. He’s the “nice guy,” as summed up when Ava directly asks him if he is a good person, to which he responds, almost glibly, “Yes.”
Caleb thinks he is there to rescue Ava from her captor so that she can be with him. He is capable of acknowledging that Ava has thoughts and feelings of her own, but he is incapable of thinking of her outside of his own context.
He thinks that Ava exists, but that she exists for him. Caleb is the archetype that appears in so many romantic films. He is a shy, smart, twenty-something pulled out of his context. A pretty girl smiles at him. So what if she is trapped in a box, and he is her only outside contact, and that if he doesn’t think she’s human enough she will die? She smiles, she belongs with him. Caleb is the personification of men who hit on women in the service industry, whose job encourages them to appeal to their customers. He instantly falls in love with Ava. By extension, he automatically thinks she must also be in love with him. He wants to free Ava, but not for herself. He wants to free her for him. In the end, Caleb thinks of Ava as a person no more than Nathan does.
The other great theme of this movie is deification.
“I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” Caleb quotes American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, when he and Nathan discuss why Nathan has decided to create artificial life. When he tells Nathan that making AI makes him like God, Nathan smiles, and thanks Caleb for calling him God.
Nathan wishes to create. He wants to do this just because he can. He uses his search engine company to collect information from the whole world to create the technology inside Ava. But that’s fine. He’s God; he’s above the little people. Caleb is his angel sent from heaven to test the mortals, and Ava is Eve, the woman who decides that existing is simply not enough, and she wants to be free.
Or Ava is God, something beyond humanity, a new creature birthed out of the belief that such a creature might exist.
But then, is Ava alive? Is to be human to be embodied in an organic flesh body, possessing a mythical soul? Or is consciousness solely electrical impulses fired through the brain? With all of these questions and more—including beautiful cinematography, haunting performances that include a disturbing scene of Caleb starting to doubt his own humanity, and a somewhat ambiguous ending that will leave viewers pondering the implications of what this all meant— Ex_Machina is simply put the best science fiction story about robots to come out for a long time.
Within six months of the publication of Kass Morgan’s debut novel The 100, the CW Network announced the making of a television series with the same name, based loosely on the author’s work.
Now a completed trilogy, The 100 chronicles a future in which a human population, known as the Colony, lives in outer space after radiation from a nuclear and biological war has rendered Earth barren and uninhabitable. The space station that the Colony has been residing in for nearly three centuries is failing—oxygen is running out—and so, in order to save humanity, a hundred prisoners are sent down to their ancestors’ home to determine if planet Earth has become habitable once again. Of the 100, there is Clarke Griffin, an ex-medical apprentice arrested for treason; Wells Jaha, the Chancellor’s son, who purposely commits a crime to join Clarke as one of the 100; Bellamy, who sneaks his way into the “dropship” sent to Earth to be with his younger sister, Octavia; and Glass, who escapes from the 100 before the ship is launched to Earth. It is later revealed that not only are the 100 the second group of colonists to land on Earth from space (ten others arrived on Earth a year prior), but also that some humans did not leave Earth when the radiation hit, and have survived. The 100 are entering into someone else’s territory.
The 100 television series, produced by Jason Rothenburg, presents a whole different world for the heroes. Even Kass Morgan acknowledges the differences between her series and its television adaptation. In a Huffington Post article, Morgan observes that “TV and literature are very different mediums, and excel at telling different types of stories.”
The casts of characters vary between the books and the television show. Glass, Luke, Camille, Carter, Graham, and Sasha do not appear in the television series; likewise, Finn, Harper, Miller, Murphy, Jasper, Monty, Raven, Kane, and Lincoln—each with their own back stories and criminal pasts—do not exist in the trilogy. Even the society of humans that have survived the radiation (called the “Earthborns” in the books and the “Grounders” in the television show) differ between the two mediums: the “Earthborns” are tame and docile compared to the savage “Grounders”.
The books and TV series are two different stories, but the “meat” of the story, so-to-speak, is essentially the same. What is this “meat”? Survival—not of the individual, but of humanity.
Morgan’s novels put emphasis on class systems, especially with regards to romance. Glass is from Phoenix, the richest class in the Colony, and falls in love with Luke, a resident from Walden, the poorest class. Although class hierarchy is only hinted at in the television series, societal problems are very much the focal point, as in the novel. The 100 attempts to answer the tough questions of society: How should decisions be made? Who will make the rules? Who will decide the punishments or consequences for those who choose not to follow the rules? Are there any exceptions to these punishments or consequences, and if so, how are the exceptions determined?
By the second novel of Morgan’s trilogy, Day 21, both the 100 and the Colony back in space struggle to form cohesive units. On Earth, Graham and his girlfriend claim possession of weapons and shelter, leaving others in fear of being attacked by their own people. In space, people turn violent in an attempt to hoard as much food as possible. Similarly, in the television series, it is Bellamy and Murphy who order the group and delegate responsibilities—sometimes for the worse.
Maintaining authority is difficult. When one of the 100 commits what the group deems as a crime, they battle on how best to deal with the culprit. Punishments are as extreme as they are back in the spaceship. In the novel, when Octavia steals the medicine box, Graham and his followers wish to execute her as punishment. Similarly, in the television series, when Wells is murdered, his murderer is sentenced to be tortured and killed (in a sequence of kids killing kids reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies). Both literature and television successfully demonstrate how human nature is wrought with war, violence, and greed.
The books and show follow the ideology that survival must take priority over personal happiness. Love and romance are often de-emphasized. In the novels, romances are formed, but only by the end of the series, and some relationships are open to interpretation: Glass and Luke are a couple; Clarke and Wells were in a relationship prior to the beginning of the series; a budding romance ignites between Clarke and Bellamy; and Wells starts to fall in love with Sasha, an “Earthborn”. The CW television series follows suit, but with harsher outcomes. Wells is murdered by the third episode of the series, and Finn, Clarke’s lover, is killed off by the middle of the second season, signifying that the focus of The 100—whether in text or on the screen—is not romance, but survival in a world marked by internal and external conflict.