Ex Machina & Chappie

Ex Machina & Chappie Ask: What’s a Human?

October 29, 2015
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the other weekend, i saw
Ex Machina and Chappie –
two (excellent) movies i’d been
meaning to see,
and only saw in proximity
but now realize:
they belong together


because both of these movies,
though in different ways,
are sci-fi takes
on a common sci-fi theme:
what’s a human?
especially as our
technology expands,
affecting our ability
to define and re-define ourselves:
what’s a human?

Ex Machina is an on-screen play . .
a quiet, subtle,
sparsely populated meditation
on identity,
featuring a robot/AI
named Ava,
who by the film’s end (spoiler)
has achieved a
calculating kind of sentience,
destroyed her maker
(like any good Frankenstein’s monster),
and slipped ominously into society

Chappie is a bombastic,
colorful, entertaining
action flick
(and a great opportunity
to see/hear lots of
Die Antwoord),
covered in a veneer of
guns, gangsterism and gusto,
featuring a robot/AI
named Chappie,
who by the film’s end (spoiler)
is tantamount to a human,
even as dead humans
have their consciousnesses
transplanted into robot shells

what are these
films saying about the question:
what’s a human?

Chappie at least seems
to hold to a kind of
simple dualism . .
a human is a consciousness –
something that could be
limited to digital information
and downloaded

Ex Machina,
sees consciousness,
maybe humans,
as coldly selfish,

both, of course,
by presenting
said perspectives
on humans,
necessarily also
present perspectives
on the divine

and here’s the point:
it doesn’t matter
so much what these
movies say about
being human,
or whether they’re
right or wrong,
what matters is that
these movies
are both asking
the same question,
wondering the same thing,
trying to figure out
the same riddle:
what’s a human?

and confluences of
this kind happen
all the time,
for humans are
asking such questions
all the time,
and because we’re
asking them in our
art –
our movies, songs,
stories and games –
all the time,
and because we’re
making art
all the time

to be human,
in part,
is to ask:
what’s a human?
and, necessarily:
what’s the divine?
and, necessarily:
to do it in art
all the time


just by virtue
of asking the question
and by asking
in the way we ask,
we see glimpses
of the answer

of course,
that fully-orbed
answer is a bigger topic,
for a different
and bigger
piece of writing,
from a different
and better
person than i

but at least,
i can point out the above,
and marvel once again,
and ironically
with you,
at us . .
we, ourselves . .
humans . .
(whatever that means)

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Matt Hill has contributed to hollywoodjesus for the past decade, taking on movies, music, books, games and other topics. He writes from Michigan, where he lives with his wife and kids. Visit facebook.com/sundayiam for free music from his sweet, super-secret Christian rock band.

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