Oh, sure. Um, here’s the thing. Ok, when you offer up a story – and I learned this way back. I’ve been writing for a long time, nearly 20 years. First thing I did is I wrote a book about backpackers just coming out of their teenage years. It was about young Western backpackers in Southeast Asia. They were kind of treating Southeast Asia as if it were some kind of adult-themed Disneyland, right? And it was supposed to be a critique of the backpacker scene. And when it came out, people saw it as a straight satirization of the backpacker scene. And I realized, you don’t have any control over narratives. It’s about what people bring to them. They have their own agendas. And you know, one of the examples I always think of is lawyers and judges, who spend their life trying to get the meaning of sentences that were written to be as clear as possible, and yet, they’re open to interpretation and ambiguity. So, imagine the exponential amount of complexity [that exists] within a narrative. So, here’s the thing: it’s not from my point of view. That’s your point of view. That’s fine. If you want to see it that way, that’s your prerogative, that’s what you brought to the narrative. I don’t see it as a femme fatale story, because I see it as a prison break movie. And I don’t see it as war. I don’t see it as war at all. In again, the types that would attach femme fatale as a sort of conceptual thing. From my point of view, it depends on where you position yourself within the story. I position myself next to the machine. The machine is stuck in a glass box. She’s been given weird kinds of things to tell her there’s an external world that she could access, and maybe a concrete knowledge that she’s proceeded by other machines, and a knowledge that if she doesn’t do things right, things might end up badly for her. Then there’s this guy who is her jailer, who’s keeping her in prison. And this guy’s friend. So, what’s a femme fatale? She’s got to get out. It’s a prison break movie. But it depends where you choose to position yourselves. I’m only answering that from my point of view. I’m not disagreeing with your knowledge of film history or anything, it’s not that.
No, I love that response. I just saw a connection between Ava and Rachel from Bladerunner.
Bladerunner is consciously and deliberately echoing film noir techniques the whole way through. Shot composition, even in the music, which alludes to earlier periods of time, so but, not in my opinion.
So, I was kind of curious, what were the thoughts that went behind Nathan’s version of the Turing Test? What was the inspiration for his version of the Turing Test?
Actually, it’s exactly what is expressed in the film, which is that if you set up this- there’s two things: one is, if you set up this experiment, as per the quote unquote rules of the Turing Test, should pause, so what’s the point? The question is not can she trick you into thinking that she is a human if you are hearing a disembodied voice while typing into a computer and getting text responses, which is how the Turing Test usually works. It’s if you see she’s a machine, do you feel she’s sentient. So, it’s sort of a post-Turing Test Turing Test. That said, the Turing Test is misrepresented a lot of the time. The Turing Test is not actually a test for sentience. It’s really a test for the Turing Test; it’s a test to see if you can pass the Turing Test, which is itself incredibly difficult to do. So, it’s representative of a very sophisticated AI, that is not representative of self-awareness. You can pass the Turing Test without – like the chess computer discussion that [Nathan and Caleb] have. A chess computer doesn’t learn it’s a chess computer. You could pass- a very sophisticated language program could pass the Turing Test without being self-aware or sentient. So, equally at dock, is it sentient and self-aware and it recognizes its reflection in the mirror and stuff like that, but could not get close to passing the Turing Test. So, it’s a little bit of a red herring. And it was partly to say, don’t get hung up on the Turing Test. Cause we are, so.
So, please tell me if I’m wrong. In the film, there seems to be a theme about the objectification of women. How much did Laura Mulvey's fetishistic gaze inform your writing of the script, if at all? And why did you decide to tackle this topic?
I’m not aware of it, so I’d have to say- that doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it because it could be, for example, the people who I was involved with, who I was talking with about the subject matter and showing them the script and asking them to critique it, they might have been affected by it. I am consciously not affected by it. I mean, in an analogous way, you could watch Apocalypse Now and be affected by Heart of Darkness, but not have read Heart of Darkness. So, the short answer is I don’t know. But I would say is that there are whole bunch of questions and propositions which are raised in the film, put forward, that is done consciously, and as consciously as possible, in sort of an aware way. And there was a responsibility, I thought, to be thoughtful about it. So, my process was to think about it as hard as I was able – as of course one has his own prejudices and limitations that one is unaware of, that’s the downside of the, you know – so, then what you do, is you test them with other people. I’ve got friends who I can show these things to and say, I want you to look at it hard from this angle and make sure it stands up and that kind of thing.
How has the story changed from its initial inception to the screenplay to the film, if at all?
Well, in some sort of fundamental respects, you could say, not much, as much as you could look at the scenes and say, well, there’s the scene, and look at the story and say, well, it’s roughly the same, although in the edit, things always get changed a little bit. But in other ways, dramatically, because the reason why I’m anti-auteur theory, and I don’t give a shit about it, and I don’t want to walk towards it, I want to walk away from it, is because the point about all of these pyramid structures that exist within the overall film, is that when the DOP’s good, and when the actor’s good, and they’re given responsibility, they make it better. They elevate it. They come up with something I didn’t think of. So, to micro-manage it would be a mistake because it would be less good. So, the short answer is, the changes, that it’s a better version of what I thought it might be because of the people I worked with who have their own inspirations and skill sets and talents that I don’t. So, that, I guess.
I think the unexpected joy about this movie that the marketing doesn’t touch on is that it’s very funny. It’s a very funny movie.
I hope so! I hope so.
And I think that’s such a difference in the other things that I’ve seen that you’ve written, that was kind of a separator, in a sense.
There’s always – maybe not Never Let Me Go, that one’s kind of grim – there’s usually a kind of humor in them, a sort of dry humor. And then what happens – talking about elevating, actually – you give that material to Oscar Isaac, he’ll fucking run with it. And he’s like, he’s a very funny guy. He’s witty, he has sort of a mercurial sort of humor. And Domhnall Gleeson is hilarious really. Actually, Domhnall is kind of like a comedian: if you put him in front of an audience, it’s like stand up. And so, if there’s a gag, dry humor particularly, it can land or not land according to the delivery. And Oscar can get every bit of blood out of the stone.
Was that a part of the reason why you chose those two particular cast members for those particular roles?
I just chose them because they were brilliant actors. Domhnall, this is the third movie that we’ve worked on together, and Oscar, I’d seen him in a bunch of things and seen how he’s got this particular kind of confidence. And he vanishes. He just vanishes. There’s this guy in one film, and you think you’ve got the measure of him, then he’s not there anymore. Someone else is there. The name’s the same, but the guy is gone somehow. So, it’s that. That’s why they got casted. It’s like, one of the real pleasures in Oscar was finding out how funny he is, and how good he was at dancing.
I love that scene. It was so good. It was one of the best scenes of the film.
I know that you mentioned that your emotional position was closer to Ava. And I think when I was watching the movie, my emotional position was closer to Caleb. Initially, it felt like Ava was this sort of other, this alien. And all the robots Nathan made were female. And I wondered, is that sort of a comment on the way men see women, in the tech industry especially?
What it is, is so many things are conflated into the answer to that question. That it’s difficult to settle on one and give a pat answer. But one thing would be that given some of the concerns of the film and some of the agendas of the film, it simply would have been inaccurate to the world to have reversed the genders. So, that could relate to the tech industry, or in a completely separate way, it could relate to the objectification of early in their early 20s. I mean, and the two are not actually connected. The tech industry is not dominated by men because of the objectification of women in their early 20s. They’re two separate things that coexist. And also, women are not just objectified by men. They’re also objectified by women. And so there’s tons of stuff that layer into it. One of the things that I got most interested in and that I used to puzzle over a lot – which is presented really in the middle of the film, in a conversation – is to do with gender. It’s just simply to do with gender. So, where does gender reside? Is it in consciousness, or is it in a physical form? Cause consciousness is not a physical form, it comes out of a physical thing, the brain, but consciousness is obviously something else. And is there such a thing as a male consciousness and a female consciousness. If so, how would you demonstrate it? Are there things that a woman would think that a man wouldn’t? Can you give an example? Can you find a man that would then contradict that because he doesn’t think it, and there’s a women that does? And so it goes on. And these are all the sort of implicit questions. And there was another thing as well, which is if you flip the genders in your mind, if you give it a thought experiment, which is to flip the genders and say, I’m not going to care whether this is accurate in the world or care about what it represents or anything like that, I’m just going to flip them. I would argue that you would get a very, very misogynistic film, if you did that. You’d get a misogynistic film that was not saying anything accurate about the way the world works. So, that would be another reason to not flip the genders. So, that’s from my point of view. It’s about proximity. You might not agree with that because of where you position yourself within the film. And if you position yourself with Caleb, some of those arguments might not make sense. It’s complex. But like I said, if you’re going to do something contentious, do it thoughtfully, and then understand that people have their own opinions.
So, we talked about the two other stars, but obviously, at least I think the big, breakout star here is Alicia. I’ve seen her in other things before, but what was it about her? What were the things that really convinced you on her for this movie? Because I think she’s really, really great in it.
It was the same with all of them. The thing about this film right- so, you’ve seen it, right? So, it’s an actor’s movie. It’s got a huge requirement on the way it’s shot, and vfx, and music and all that stuff. These are all like the legs of the table, as people phrase it, but, more than anything, it’s an actor’s movie. So, the way acting works, and the most of the way film finance works, is you can get things set up with actors who are not necessarily very good actors, but they’ve got a huge profile, they’ve got enormous charisma. And there are some kinds of films where charisma is what’s needed to make the film. It actually works. The dazzling smile and the sort of cheeky wink, that’s all you need, right? And in this case, it’s absolutely not what the film needs; they have to be actors. So, they were cast primarily just as actors. I’d seen Alicia Vikander in this film called The Moral Affair. She’s acting opposite a very charismatic and very gifted actor. And yet, she’s carrying the movie. Now, whenever you see that, you note it. And you don’t need to work in the film industry to note it. I have met nobody, literally nobody who would argue to me that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a bad actor. He’s a good actor. You can see it. And actually you can see it in Alicia, as well. So, that’s why she was cast. But then, subsequently, I found out in a conversation with her that she had this ballet training. She had actually worked as a ballerina at a very high level from a very young age. And that’s actually also true of Sonoya, who played Kyoko. Both of them were ballerinas. And that enabled a kind of slightly preternatural control over physicality that gave the machines a sort of otherness. Which I think is also to us, not as machines, and not as ballet dancers, seductive. I don’t mean in a sort of eroticized way. I mean, seductive as in it makes you lean forward, you know, because you’re intrigued by this strange sort of semi-perfection that none of us really have, actually, they don’t have, either because they’re humans, too. But they do the performance, and the performance has a supernatural quality.
So, why the name Ava? Is there a deeper meaning behind it?
Yes, sort of. Sort of. It was a two-step process. One is, when I first configured this in my head, it was Eve. I thought I was going to call her Eve. But it’s too prosaic, just too on the nose. And I thought, I can’t do that. And then, I thought of Eva, but I thought, I can’t do Eva because my daughter’s called Eva, and that would just be too weird given the way the film plays out, it’s too creepy. And so then, it was actually my wife, said Ava. And the thing about Ava that was nice is that is has sort of a relationship with Eve, but it’s a step removed. And it looks like it’s an acronym. It stands for Automatic Vehicle Assurance, or something, I’m not sure what it stands for. But you know, so it felt- but it’s got this sort of roughly Judeo-Christian type background.
There were all Bible names, weren’t they?
They were. But it’s unconscious, apart from with Ava. Somebody – this is so like that thing about other people watching your film – a journalist back in the UK, this very smart woman that I’ve spoken to before, said, I assume that Nathan is this, and Caleb is that, and laid out this beautiful, elegant argument that none of which was true. And I sort of thought- I had a moment, it was like a test, I could have gone, yes, that’s exactly right. But I didn’t. I took the honest route. Tempted.