Photo of Ava from Ex Machina and Theodore from Her with a versus sign between them.

“Ex Machina” vs “Her”

By Andrea Mau
Web Content Contributor

“Ex Machina” directed by Alex Garland and “Her” directed by Spike Jonze, are two of the top artificial intelligence films to date.

Both are known for their explorations into the popular science fiction genre, artificial intelligence (AI), in which technology surpasses mankind.

The films are often paired together while simultaneously juxtaposed. Similar to how Orwell’s “1984” and Huxley’s “Brave New World” are compared, the two explore similar themes with wildly different perspectives.

Ava’s robotic body in Ex Machina and Theodore speaking with the intangible Samantha in Her.
Ava from Ex Machina and Theodore speaking with the intangible Samantha in Her. Screenshots by Andrea Mau.

The AI

Like “1984“, “Ex Machina” paints a more sinister view for the future. This is most plainly seen in its depiction of the AI, Ava. Because of her physical form, she poses threats that go beyond intellectual deviance.

When Ava’s creator gave her a body, he released he had control over her ability to impact the real world tangibly. This is a more obvious set up for failure, and frightening when the audience knows she can physically cause harm.

In this way, “Ex Machina” is more of what science fiction has made us believe the AI invasion would be, with an army of machines coming to exterminate humanity. However, is this the most frightening take over imaginable?

In “Her”, the AI is Samantha. Unlike Ava, Samantha exists only in cyberspace. This makes Samantha a more probable form of AI, but it is the realistic depiction of AI, which makes the plot all the more disquieting. 

“Brave New World” is deceptive in this way as well, as society is lured into a false sense of utopia. Similarly, the protagonist in “Her” is lured by Samantha’s convenience and fulfillment of emotional needs. Samantha’s perfection makes him blind to his real-life stagnation.

Samantha is scary because she already exists today in our companions like Siri and Alexa, although a bit more advanced. One has to wonder if we are not already dependent on technology like the protagonist. This makes Samantha a more realistic threat.

Ava and Samantha are both formidable and utilize their expansive knowledge to out trick their creators; however, they go about this completely differently. While Ava utilizes her physical manifestation in the world, Samantha adapts through social interactions to attain knowledge beyond comprehension.

Caleb from Ex Machina and Theodore from Her.
Caleb from Ex Machina and Theodore from Her. Screenshots by Andrea Mau.

The people

The protagonists of the films have their unique differences and similarities as well. In “Ex Machina,” Caleb Smith is relatively well off as a programmer for a large company. He knows technology, so he is what society would consider a good match against a computer.

On the other hand, Theodore in “Her” is a divorced and depressed writer. He paints a more vulnerable yet relatable personality. Despite knowing he is unlikely to succeed, audiences root for him because they can see themselves in his shoes.

These differences are quickly dispelled; however, as both protagonists are tricked by the end of their films and in similar ways. Both are used emotionally by the AIs, whether through fear or love. The AIs show the men what they long for in human connection, by replacing or seeming better than reality.

While “Ex Machina” is scary because Caleb doesn’t seem likely to fall for Ava, “Her” is scary because Theodore represents a better portion of the audience and anyone could fall for it.

Ava in a red room from Ex Machina and Theodore in the shower looking troubled from Her.
Ava from Ex Machina and Theodore from Her. Screenshots by Andrea Mau.

The downfall

“Ex Machina” and “Her”, portray varying apocalypses. “Ex Machina” has a much clearer path for destruction because of the violent way it left off. “Her” leaves on a more ambiguous note. However, both achieve a complex sense of morality.  

In “Ex Machina”, Ava takes on human traits to assimilate and eliminate humans. However, this serves to make Ava a more familiar, physical threat. While this proves threatening in the film, it is very unlikely to happen in real life.

“Her” is more unique in the way that Samantha seems to appear less human by the end. Instead of becoming humans, the AIs take advantage of humans only long enough to ascend them. Rather than adopting humans, they denounce and take on their new and improved identity.

In “Her”, there is no definitive end to humanity, but it feels as though the AI has disconnected and robbed the human race. In a fate worse than death, humanity seems to have lost all integrity and cleverness.

Theodore from Her with the title.
Theodore from Her. Screenshot by Andrea Mau.

Winner

Like “Brave New World”, “Her” left a greater impression on me than their counterparts. “Brave New World” and “Her” suggest the apocalypse will result from the voluntary obedience of society. A society that’s rotten, but good at hiding this fact, is much harder to dispel due to its deceptiveness.

In my opinion, this makes Her a more fully realized portrayal of the AI apocalypse. Not only is it more likely to happen, but far more terrifying of a reality.

Featured image by Alex Garland, Spike Jonze, and Andrea Mau via Canva.

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