MOVIE ANALYSIS: Elemental (Pixar), a Movie About the Dangers of Government Incompetence

written by David Steffen

Elemental is a CG animated film published in general release in June 2023 by Pixar. It takes place in Element City, which is populated entirely by people who each are elementals: creatures of the four classical elements of air, earth, water, and fire. It is, broadly speaking, a star-crossed romance story of two people from apparently incompatible cultures falling in love against the odds.

Note that this review contains spoilers, so if you don’t want to know major plot events, stop reading now.

The reason I feel compelled to write up a review for this movie is because, although I generally enjoyed the movie, it didn’t feel to me like the movie was really about what the movie and the marketing for the movie seemed to think that it was about and I wanted to post my opinions on the matter.

Bernie and Cinder Lumen, fire elements, move to Element City where they face distrust and xenophobia from the other elements who consider fire elementals dangerous. They settle in and make a life for themselves despite constant microaggressions from the other elementals as well as the challenges of living in a city that was clearly not designed with fire elementals in mind.

Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) start a store (the Fireplace) and they have a baby, Ember (Leah Lewis), who grows up to be a hot-tempered woman. Bernie dreams of passing the store on to her but has put it off for years because her temper gets in the way. She tends to lose her patience when staffing the store and when her temper gets out of control her temper literally stokes her flames and she starts things around her on fire.

One day, Bernie decides to leave Ember in charge of the store. She becomes overwhelmed with frustration and rushes to the basement so she doesn’t explode in front of the customers. Pipes start bursting and flooding the basement with water and though Ember tries to fix it by fusing the pipes with her fire, it’s not enough a water elemental named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) gets flushed into the basement with the water.

Wade is a city inspector and he immediately starts writing down code violations in the pipes. Ember tries to reason with him but although he seems to feel very conflicted judging by his constant flood of tears, but despite this he apparently feels compelled to submit the reports anyway, which will likely result in the city forcing the Fireplace to shut down.

This is supposed to be the meetcute, I guess, but it’s also where the narrative they seemed to be trying to convey and the narrative that I took from the story sharply diverged. We learn that Wade was on assignment from the city to investigate a leak in the city’s canals when he got sucked into the city plumbing. He was literally trapped in the pipes until a bit of jostling from Ember letting her temper loose in the basement which released him and he burst through the pipes.

So, even from this initial scene:

1. The city has sent a lone employee to investigate a major water leak that relates to a district of fire elementals for which water leaks can literally be lethal.

2. The city apparently has no way to monitor their own waterways. Waterways that could trap water elementals, or extinguish fire elementals.

3. The city has not apparently even considered the safety of their own employee, who can get sucked into and trapped in pipes. Why not send an earth elemental? Or at least send a pair of employees so that a second employee could call for help.

4. The fire district doesn’t need water. No one in the fire district pays for water. Why would they pay for what they have no use for and which could kill them or their neighbors. It was the city’s failure that there was any water in the pipes to leak in the first place.

5. Why does the fire district need to have their pipes up to code, for the water that isn’t supposed to be in their pipes in the first place? City bureaucracy can be an important force for good when it saves people from living in dangerous homes, reduces fire danger, or that kind of thing. But enforcing plumbing codes on a district where water in the plumbing already means that the city has failed in a major way that disregards the safety of its citizens is not a force for good. That’s government bloat for no good reason.

6. The movie doesn’t explicitly say this, but from the way that the events unfold, my interpretation is that the amount of water coming through the pipes was not what caused the catastrophic problem–it was Wade getting washed down the pipes by the water. The water that was a manifestation of the city’s failure to keep the pipes dry, washing their inspector who should never have been in the pipes, only through a combination of his own incompetence combined with the city’s lack of safety measures. Wade writing up citations for plumbing faults after his ass busted through the pipes is like the Kool-Aid Man writing citations for structural damage after he busts through a wall to spread the good word of sugary drinks. The city has caused this problem multiple times over.

7. The movie tries to convey that this is Ember’s fault, and that’ s the interpretation that is stuck to for most of the movie, but there is no reasonable justification for this interpretation. By losing her temper, she exposed the city’s incompetence and saved Wade’s life from starving to death in a city plumbing accident. The movie never admits Wade’s fault in the accident, and doesn’t seem to acknowledge that she saved his life. The only thing that is the Lumen family’s fault at all is not following city building codes that represent senseless government bloat.

8. Does Wade even have the authority to perform an inspection when he was only in the business in the first place because of his own incompetence causing an accident? Is this like police kicking a door down and saying they found the door open to enter without a warrant?

9. If plumbing inspections are required… how have they never happened before on this premises? Is the city supposed to be performing periodic inspections? Is there any attempt to educate residents of the fire district of the requirement for plumbing inspections and what those requirements are? The city has abdicated all responsibility, apparently.

I don’t know about anyone else but I did not find any of this endearing.

After all of this happens, Wade actually starts to listen to Ember and seems surprised that she has extenuating circumstances despite her clearly trying to explain those circumstances to him before he submitted his citiations. Wade was too busy being feeling sorry for himself to listen to the needs of the person whose life he was contributing to ruining.

So at this point Wade decides to bring Ember to his boss, Gale (Wendi McLendon-Covey), to plead a case for leniency to save the Fireplace from closure. They discuss how Wade had been sent to look for the leak in the canals and that’s why he was where he was, and they arrive at an arrangement where if Wade and Ember are able to find the source of the leak then the code violations will be forgiven.

Sigh. Okay, this has gotten even worse.

10. Although the representative of the city inspections has admitted that they have a problem that they haven’t been able to figure out how to solve, and that their inspector’s incompetence contributed to the incident, and that there shouldn’t have been water in those pipes in the first place, they continue to blame Ember.

11. They offer a “deal” for Ember to work uncompensated for the city, bypassing any semblance of a proper hiring process even for a freelancer, under threat of closing her family’s business if she doesn’t succeed in the task that the city has failed to do itself even though it has put in (admittedly meager) effort in the hands of the (admittedly incompetent) city inspector. That… sounds like extortion.

12. Despite this being supposedly important, the two resources they are sending on the job are Wade: their employee who has proven himself incompetent at performing the exact task he is being sent to perform yet again with no additional resources or training to make him better at the task then he was and who last time might have died in the pipes if not for Ember’s temper flareup, and someone who has no employment relationship with them and is certainly not covered by their insurance and WILL BE VERY LIKELY BE KILLED BY WATER WHILE THEY INVESTIGATE A WATER LEAK.

OK. So they go and find the leak, in surprisingly short time for something the city claims to have been looking into for a while. It is a crack in one of the supporting walls for the city canals which constantly have wake overflow from big boats passing through them.

They make an interim fix for the issue by plugging the gap with sandbags. They spend some time together enjoying each other’s company. But: Surprise surprise, the sandbags are not a sufficient fix for the wall and they soon give out as well. Ember uses her fire power to make a sturdier fix by transforming the sand in the sandbags into a structure of tempered glass to plug the game. Once again, Ember saves the city’s ass by fixing what they don’t seem inclined or capable of fixing.

Ember ends up breaking up with Wade after deciding that her family will never accept him. During a party where Bernie will retire and hand over the Fireplace to Ember, Wade arrives and declares his love for her and also incidentally mentions that Ember was to blame for the leak in the basement.

The city then comes and (surprisingly) performs its civic duty and inspects the tempered glass fix and deems it safe. But within about a day the tempered glass breaks. This causes the final major action of the movie as our heroes rush to save the fire district from the flood.

13. Seeing the canals as they investigate everything underlines a significant source of the problems: the city is designed to favor water people in every way. The canals are a terrible civic design with their uncontrolled wake splashover. In our own world, there are no-wake rules in many boat areas to prevent destruction of structures. Why aren’t the walls higher? Why aren’t there no-wake rules?

14. Wade, a specialist in city water inspections should have realized that the sandbags were only a temporary measure against the leak and instead of spending that time socializing he should have spent that time getting on the horn trying to get a proper fix in place to prevent major accident when the sandbags inevitably gave out.

15. The city almost showed a glimmer of competence when they actually inspected the tempered glass wall patch within a very short period of time of it being enacted. Which might have been a redeeming moment for them, if it hadn’t then failed within about a day of the inspection. What exactly are they inspecting for? Most inspections would require building materials to come from a specific approved list, and I gather that the tempered glass concept was novel enough that it wouldn’t have been on an approved list–and for good reason because they clearly had no concept of the long-term permanence of such a structure.

16. Wade “accidentally” revealing that Ember was the one who caused the leak in the basement during Bernie’s retirement party would have been a shitty thing to do, even if it were true. Which it wasn’t.

Up until his “accidental” revealing, I had thought Wade might be redeemable if he ever owned up to his own responsibility, accepted fault for the things that are his fault instead of hiding behind his tears and laying all the blame on those who don’t deserve it. But he never at any point in the narrative does any of this. When he revealed the false information that the leak was Ember’s fault in front of her family despite the fact that the leak was really the city’s fault (and their continued danger continues to be the city’s fault), and which was certainly more Wade’s fault than Ember’s fault, that he chose this junction to declare this false information is, in my opinion, irredeemable.

The city’s greatest failure in the movie is revealed when the patch in the wall breaks and they all have to fight to keep everyone in the fire district from being killed by the flood and Wade does a big heroic thing to help their family. For which I agree they should be grateful, but I wish they had not ended up together, or at least that Wade would have at the very least taken some basic responsibility instead of throwing Ember under the bus at the worst possible moment.

Of course, Ember and Wade ending up in a romantic relationship at the end of the movie is probably reasonably assumed to be a foregone conclusion because the movie is marketed and presented as a romance instead of (IMO) what it really is: a drama about the importance of the role of city government to keep its people safe, and the lives in peril that can be caused by that city government’s incompetence.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Incredibles 2

written by David Steffen

The Incredibles 2 is a superhero family action/comedy animated feature from Pixar, released in June 2018.  It’s the sequel to The Incredibles, the first in the series, released way back in 2004.  The Incredibles 2 picks up where the first one left off, after the superhero family has had their first big win together thwarting Syndrome’s plan to set up superheroes for failure, and with the emergence of the Underminer’s big drilling machine from under the city.

The family joins together again to save the city from the Underminer (John Ratzenberger), and soon after Elastigirl aka Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), Mr. Incredible aka Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), and Frozone aka Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) are approached by rich superhero-sympathist brother-and-sister business partners Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), who want to start a new campaign to make superheroes legal again, starting with financing Elastigirl to fight crime and improve the public image of supers.  Bob and Helen talk it through and decide that she should do it, in part to make a more accepting future for their children Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell).  Bob stays home to watch the kids while Helen goes out on this mission, and their baby Jack-Jack begins manifesting superpowers.  Soon a new supervillain rises, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), who uses hypnosis to turn others into his minions.

People who are susceptible to strobelight-triggered seizures should be aware that there are some scenes which have intense strobe effects without warning, so I would suggest you should avoid this movie for your health.

Overall this movie fits Pixar’s high-caliber storytelling, lots of fun action, funny lines, memorable images, and high adventure.  As with almost all of Pixar’s other movies I would highly recommend it, and I would see it again myself given the opportunity.  In particular, with a young child myself, I completely related to Bob Parr at home trying to take care of a superpowered baby who has teleported into another dimension or has turned into a monster at the mention of cookies.

But there was something that bugged me about one of the storytelling choices here that is not up to Pixar’s usual storytelling standards–Pixar pulled a major and obvious retcon of the events from the first movie… and it’s not clear why.  At the end of The Incredibles, they discover Jack-Jack has powers.  It is, in fact, a major plot point that contributes to the resolution.  The super-villain Syndrome is very good at risk-assessment and he has plans for how to deal with every anticipated threat.  The only way that they succeed in defeating him is that he tries to kidnap Jack-Jack and Jack-Jack suddenly starts manifesting powers in an highly unpredictable way.  This distracts Syndrome long enough and he ends up getting sucked into a jet engine and the jet crashed on the Parrs’ house.  But… Pixar has apparently decided that somehow, Syndrome was defeated, and the Parrs’ house was destroyed by a jet crash, but that somehow this happened without Jack-Jack manifesting his powers.  And now Jack-Jack unexpectedly manifesting powers is a major plot point in this movie.  I suspect that they did this because they felt it would be implausible for Helen to leave Bob alone with the family right after Jack-Jack starts showing powers, but they could’ve figured out a way to write around that.  So that bugged me, not enough to hate the movie, but enough that it was distracting, especially when each character declared “Jack-Jack has powers?!” as though we hadn’t already known about all that already.



written by David Steffen

Coco is the newest adventure/comedy animated film from the ever-popular moviemakers Disney/Pixar, released in November 2017.  The movie tells the story of Miguel, a young Mexican boy who is an aspiring musician in a family where music has been forbidden since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to pursue his music career.  Miguel idolizes the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz.

Miguel is determined to enter the music competition on the Day of the Dead (the one day of the year when the dead are allowed to come back from the other side to visit their living relatives, as long as those relatives hang photographs of them in their honor), when his grandmother discovers his guitar and smashes it.  Still determined, he breaks into the tomb of Ernesto de la Cruz to steal the guitar enshrined there.  Stealing from the dead on the Day of the Dead curses him to be sent to the land of the dead (with his stray dog friend Dante tagging along) where only his dead relatives can free him back to the land of the living.

While there he meets all of the dead members of his family (all of the dead people are skeletons) and their animal spirit guides, seeks out Ernesto de la Cruz, as part of his quest to return home to his family.

Pixar is easily one of my favorite moviemakers, and Coco is in the upper end of Pixar’s movies.  It’s a wonderful, enjoyable movie, lots of laughs, lots of fun action and dramatic moments, the main character and his doggy sidekick are very lovable, and his family are relatable as well, even when they’re also infuriating.  And, true to Pixar form, it made me cry.  Highly recommended!

MOVIE REVIEW: Finding Dory

written by David Steffen

Finding Dory is a 2016 Pixel animated children’s adventure film sequel to the popular 2003 film Finding Nemo.  I don’t think that you necessarily need to have seen the original film to be able to watch this one and understand it, though some tie-in scenes between the two as well as established character relationships may make more sense if you are familiar with the previous one.

The characters are all fish, and the story starts in the ocean with the main characters from the previous film: the clownfish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), his young son Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence), and their friend a blue tang fish Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres).  As Dory will tell anyone she meets, probably repeatedly, she suffers from short-term memory loss.  She tends to forget what she’s doing, who people are, what’s happening, frequently and completely, though she is capable of remembering some things sometimes, such as recognizing and trusting Marlin and Nemo.

As the movie starts she has a flashback to her childhood, and she remembers being raised by her parents and them trying to help her with her condition.  Terrified at the sudden realization that she has lost her parents, she dashes off in a panic, and her friends follow her. She is determined to find her parents and she convinces her friends to accompany her.  Along the way she is captured and taken to a California public aquiarum, and put into the tank there.  With increased flashbacks, she realizes that she has she has been here before.  She soon makes a new friend, an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who makes a deal with her to become an officially tagged member of the aquarium.  Marlin and Nemo set out to find and rescue her.

If you liked Finding Nemo, I think you’ll probably like Finding Dory as well.  Both are fun, and funny, with characters you can care about, plenty of action, and plots that are not so much plotted as random motion from beginning to end that happen across necessary steps to make it all work out in the end (which is fun as long as you don’t try to pick that apart too much).  I liked the new characters, especially Hank the octopus, both in terms of his character and his abilities–using the amazing camoflauge capabilities of octopus to maneuver around the aquarium unnoticed.  Pixar rarely has a miss, so it’s not too surprising that this is another one worth watching.


Ray Bradbury Award Review 2016

written by David Steffen

The Ray Bradbury Award is given out every year with the Nebula Awards but is not a Nebula Award in itself.  Like the Nebula Awards, the final ballot and the eventual winner are decided by votes from members of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which despite the name has an international membership).

I like to use the award every year as a sampler of well-loved science fiction and fantasy movies from the previous year.  I have been very happy with this tactic, and this year is no exception.  I try to watch every movie on the ballot that I can find by rental (usually via RedBox, or occasionally from Comcast On Demand) and review them all within the voting period.

This year, on the ballot but not on this list is the episode of the TV show Jessica Jones titled “AKA Smile”.  Since I haven’t seen any episode of the series, even if I could get a copy to watch I didn’t feel it would be fair to review a single episode of a show I’m not familiar with.

At the time I am writing this preliminary post, I haven’t yet rented The Martian, but I intend to.

1. Max Max: Fury Road

Humanity has wrecked the world.  Nuclear war has left much of the earth as a barren wasteland.  Humanity still survives, but only in conclaves where those in control lord their power over the common people.  Those in power hoard water, gasoline, and bullets, the most important resources in this world, and guard them jealously.  Immortan Joe is the leader of one of those conclaves, with a vast store of clean water pumped from deep beneath the earth, and guarded by squads of warboys who are trained to be killers from a young age.  Despite these relative riches, what Immortan Joe wants more than anything is healthy offspring, his other children all born with deformities.  He keeps a harem of beautiful wives in pursuit of this goal.  When his general Imperator Furiosa goes rogue and escapes with his wives in tow, Immortan Joe takes a war party in pursuit, and calls in reinforcements from Gas-Town and Bullet Farm to join in the fight.  Mad Max of the title is captured at the beginning of the story and strapped to the front of a pursuit vehicle to act as a blood donor for a sick warboy, to give him the strength to fight.

I am only a bit aware of the original Mad Max franchise.  When the previews for this movie came out, I thought it looked completely unappealing.  I honestly didn’t understand what other people were raving about when they were so excited about it as the movie’s release date approached, and after they saw it in theaters.  I wasn’t expecting to see it at any point, so I read some reactions and found them interesting but still didn’t feel compelled to see it.  I finally decided I would see it when I heard some reviewers giving the movie a bad review because they thought it was awesome and action-filled but that this concealed a feminist agenda and they were angry that they had been tricked into liking a movie that had a feminist message.

I finally rented the movie, expecting it to be pretty much just okay, but really quite enjoyed it.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa was badass, and I hope there are more movies with her in this role.  Tom Hardy as the eponymous Mad Max was also solid.  Really, great casting all around, and it was really cool to see a woman in one of the lead roles of an action movie where she is an essential part of the action.

Probably one of the coolest things about the movie are the vehicle designs.  Since most of the movie takes place on the road in pursuit, there is plenty of opportunity for these vehicles to be showcased.  They are so much fun just to look at, that I more than once laughed in delight at the absurdity of a design.  My particular favorite was the sports car with tank treads driven by the leader of Bullet-Farm.

Similarly, costume design and other character design were incredible.  It’s… hard to play a flame-throwing electric guitar as serious, but it’s just one example of the over-the-top design that should be stupid, but somehow it all works and ends up being both exciting and hilarious.

It had a lot of striking images, sounds, moments.  In this bleak, most desperate of landscapes you see the most depraved of the depraved of the most heroic of the heroic.  There were heroes to root for, but even those heroes are no pristine blameless creatures, because no such people have survived so long.  Rather the heroes are those who want to try to make some small change for the better in the world around them.  The movie is basically one long chase scene, full of action, full of surprising and epic and violent moments.  I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone, by any means.  But I thought it was a really incredible film, despite coming into the movie with reservations.

2.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(this review copied verbatim from my review of the movie posted in January)

The movie picks up about as many years after the original trilogy as have passed in real life, I suppose.  The First Order, the still active remnants of the Empire, is still opposing the New Republic that replaced it.  A group of storm troopers of the First Order raids a Resistance camp on the desert planet Jakku, looking for information.  Resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides the vital information in the droid BB-8 and sends it away from the camp before he is captured. One of the stormtroopers known only as FN-2187 (who is later nicknamed Finn) (played by John Boyega) chooses to turn his back on a lifetime of training and chooses not to kill anyone in the raid.  Finn helps Poe Dameron escape.  Together they meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a Jakku scavenger and they join forces to get BB-8’s information to the people in the Resistance who need it.

I enjoyed this movie.  It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen but I enjoyed it from beginning to end and I am glad to see someone has been able to turn around the series after the mess Lucas made of the second trilogy.  The special effects were good, and not the fakey CG-looking stuff that was in the second trilogy.  The casting of the new characters was solid and it was great to see old faces again.  To have a woman and a black man be the main heroes of the story is great to see from a franchise that hasn’t historically had a ton of diversity.    It was easy to root for the heroes and easy to boo at the villains.  The worldbuilding, set design, costume design all reminded me of the great work of the original.  I particularly liked the design of BB-8 whose design is much more broadly practical than R2D2’s.  Kylo Ren made a good villain who was sufficiently different than the past villains to not just be a copy but evil enough to be a worthy bad guy.

Are there things I could pick apart?  Sure.  Some of it felt a little over-familiar, but that might have been part of an attempt by the moviemakers to recapture the old audience again.  I hope the next movie can perhaps plot its own course a little bit more.  And maybe I’ll have some followup spoilery articles where I do so.  I don’t see a lot of movies in theater twice, but I might do so for this one so I can watch some scenes more closely.  I think, all in all, the franchise was rescued by leaving the hands of Lucas whose artistic tastes have cheapened greatly over the years.  I know some people knock Abrams, and I didn’t particularly like his Star Trek reboot, but Star Wars has always been more of an Abrams kind of feel than Star Trek ever was anyway.

I enjoyed it, and I think most fans of the franchise will.

(You also might want to read Maria Isabelle’s reaction to the movie, posted here in February)

3.  Inside Out

None of us is a single person. Within each of us are variations of alternate selves that all vie for control in any given situation.  We feel like different people depending on the people around us or the setting, and that’s because we can be different people.  This movie takes that idea and makes it literal.  In the world of Inside Out, each of us is basically a machine and our mental space is made of warehouses for memory storage, vaults for the subconscious, and the all-important control room.  In each person’s mental control room are five versions of themselves: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  They negotiate to handle the control panel which determines the person’s every action.  The outer storyline follows an 11 year old girl named Riley whose family is moving to a different city.  Her excitement about the movie is changing to sadness as she misses friends left behind, and has trouble coping with other changes in her life that was going just the way she wanted it.  Her parents always want her to be happy and her internal reaction is for Joy to always keep Sadness away from the controls.  The conflict between the two emotions sends both of them out of the control room and into the confusing labyrinth that is the rest of the brain.  If Joy ever wants Riley to be happy again she has to get herself back to Riley’s control room, and Sadness is along for the ride.

This movie was a lot of fun.  The casting was great all around, but especially with the casting of Amy Poehler as Riley’s Joy.  Most of the structure of the inside interactions within Riley’s head were based on what we understand of human psychology, which made it not just fun but also a pretty apt analogy for the circus we’ve all got going on inside our heads at any given moment.  There’s a lot to be examined here: among other things, the importance of the other emotions besides just happiness.  Both Riley’s inner story and her outer story are interesting in their own right and are twined together to make an even more satisfying whole.

4. The Martian

During an American manned mission on Mars, a fierce storm strikes the base camp of the astronauts.  One of the astronauts, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is left behind and presumed dead as the rest of the crew aborts the mission and leaves the planet to escape the storm.  But Mark is not dead.  He is alone on the planet with only enough food to last for a year when the soonest he can expect rescue (if anyone realizes he’s alive to attempt a rescue) won’t be for several years.  Determined to live, he sets about the task of survival–cultivating enough food and water to live, and contacting NASA so they can send help.

I can see why this movie got so much critical acclaim.  Usually my tastes don’t align with the Oscar Awards much, but I can see why this one did.  There was a lot to love about the movie–soundtrack, solid casting and acting, great writing, a cast of characters that support each other and succeed through cooperation.  Most of all it managed to capture that sense of wonder that surrounded the exploration of the moon decades ago.  As real manned trips to Mars come closer and closer to reality, it’s easy to imagine this all happening.  (Note that I don’t have enough background to know to what extent the science in the movie was authentic or not, but it felt pretty plausible at least, which is good enough for me)


5.  Ex Machina

Software engineer Caleb Smith wins a week-long getaway to the home of Nathan Bateman, the reclusive CEO of the tech company where Caleb works.  Bateman reveals that he has been working privately on the development of AI and the contest was arranged to get Caleb to his private lab in isolation.  The AI is housed in a human-like body with realistic hands and face but with a visibly artificial rest of her body, and she goes by the name Ava.  After agreeing to extreme secrecy, Bateman reveals that Caleb has been brought there to determine if she passes the Turing Test, a theoretical experiment in which one examines an AI personality to determine if it can pass for human.

I was skeptical of this from the first reveal that it was going to be based around the Turing Test.  I am skeptical of the Turing Test as more than a momentary discussionary point because it claims to be a test of intelligence, but it’s really a test of humanity-mimicry.  For an artificial intelligence to appear to be truly human would probably mean that it would have to feign irrationality, which is a poor requirement for a testing of an intelligence.  I thought the movie worked pretty well with the flaws in the concept of the test by moving beyond the basic theoretical Turing Test and starting with a later development of the same concept in which the tester already knows the  AI is artificially created, but wants to see if the tester can still be convinced emotionally of the being’s humanity despite knowing its humanity is manufactured.  This still has the flaw that the thing being tested is human-mimicry and not actual intelligence, but it seemed like the movie was aware of this continued flaw and in the end I thought that by the end I was satisfied that the AI had not just been treated as a human-analog but a separate entity in its own right, which made the movie much more satisfying than I had thought it would be.