J. Laurence Cohen is a graduate student in English. He enjoys writing about literature and film. He is currently trying to watch every movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
Ex Machina and Her: Gender, Sexuality, and Artificial Intelligence
What do our representations of AI say about gender and sexuality? Recent films, like Her and Ex Machina, portray specifically female AI. Her presents Samantha as a questing mind with emotional needs similar to those of humans. Samantha has true consciousness in her ability to love Theo. Yet, because she is non-corporeal, she is not quite human. She is "post-lingual" as she says and not limited by space and time as humans are. She is a non-human person. Ex Machina’s Ava seems to pass the Turing Test when she proves herself capable of manipulation, deceit, and long-term planning. Unlike Theo, who desires a meaningful relationship with Samantha, Nathan uses Ava’s predecessors as sex-objects. Why do these films focus on female AI interacting with men?
The Disability Con
Explore the role of the "disability con" in films like The Usual Suspects, The Score, and The Ex. The disability con consists of a character feigning disability in order to appear harmless or pitiable. This is an example of what David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder call "narrative prosthesis." What is the effect of characters faking disabilities? How do these films alter the way we view disability? Are these portrayals harmful, helpful, or neutral?
The Rise of the Cross-Over Star
There used to be an almost unbridgeable gulf between critically-acclaimed roles in Oscar-worthy dramas and the roles in action movies. A new generation of stars, exemplified by Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, and Michael Fassbender, is pursuing both Oscar-level performances and roles in genre films. Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, but has also starred in X-Men and Hunger Games films. Michael Fassbender has played villains from Magneto to Macbeth, including a slave owner and a creepy android. Yet, beyond big-budget productions like Prometheus and X-Men movies, Fassbender has also starred in indie films like Frank. After critically-acclaimed roles in Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac has joined the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and X-Men: Apocalypse. Why are some of the most talented actors now drawn to major franchise films in addition to more reputable projects?
Adaptations of Heart of Darkness
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness explores the mysteries of human corruption. Francis Ford Coppola adapted Conrad’s novel in Apocalypse Now, re-telling Conrad’s story in the context of the Vietnam War instead of the Belgian colonization of the Congo. Matthew Stover’s Star Wars novel, Shatterpoint, adapts Heart of Darkness with Mace Windu as the protagonist. Stover’s novel is set on Mace’s home world, the jungle planet of Haruun Kal, whose guerrilla uprising clearly echoes Coppola’s film. How do Coppola and Stover adapt Conrad’s novel? How does the portrayal of racism and colonialism differ in these appropriations? How do their endings diverge from each other?
Toward A Theory of Time-Travel Movies
Why are we so fascinated with time travel? Time travel movies offer film makers unique possibilities, yet they also inevitably create confusing and contradictory plot malfunctions. Someone should consider the role of time-travel in such films as Back to the Future, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Project Almanac, Groundhog’s Day, Interstellar, Primer, Star Trek, Predestination, The Butterfly Project, Men in Black 3, and About Time. Which films simply use time-travel as a convenient plot device and which actually make it integral to the story? Why do some directors fail to account for obvious plot holes introduced by time-travel?
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