‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

Advertisements

The Wonder of Flight

Imagine a scenario where you were able to transport yourself back in time to the 1950s. You would be coming from the modern era and a time now where you can travel to your heart’s content if you have the means to do so. The 1950s, in contrast, was a decade before the age of commercial aviation had really blossomed and taken off, and where the average person could not board a flight to go halfway around the world, round-trip, for a couple hundred dollars. People of that era would think you’re crazy and out of your mind for suggestion that commercial aviation would either be that accessible or affordable.

However, that is where we are today in our modern society. We often take the chance to fly around our country or internationally for granted nowadays but for most of human history, there was absolutely no chance to fly to the next town let alone to Japan or Australia. Modern aviation can be considered one of mankind’s greatest successes and that is due partly to the Wright Brothers and the countless others who are skilled engineers and builders. The advances in flying will continue to make travel more efficient, faster, and more affordable.

While there is a growing disparity on numerous airlines in terms of how much you pay equaling the quality of services that you will receive as a result, it is good for us as travelers to keep it in perspective of how lucky we are to be in an age where at least the possibility of flight exists and how wondrous it is for the world to be connected so easily. You no longer have to board a ship for months on end to cross the dangerous Atlantic Ocean nor do you have board an extremely long train ride where the accommodations won’t be much better.

For example, you can travel across the continental United States in less than six hours thanks to modern aviation technology. Compare this to driving a car or bus across the country which would take a few weeks or your average Amtrak train which could take about a week or so and not be that much cheaper. The fact that we can be reunited with our loved ones or our friends within a day if they live across the country from us or around the world is a truly monumentous achievement in human history.

In addition to the simple fact that you’re now able to travel through the sky in relative comfort at over five hundred miles per hour, it’s easier now than ever to entertain yourself with books, movies, and music. On certain airlines, you can even connect to the internet if you need to get some work done. While they may not feed you a lot or feed you food that’s good or tasty, you have the option of snacking or eating a meal and you will definitely be hydrated with the help of flight attendants.

There has been a lot of bad press lately about certain airlines in the United States and the condition of airports here, and these criticisms are definitely warranted. However, instead of trying to tear down this form of transportation, I would hope that this industry continues to improve in terms of services offered, having affordable prices, and providing a comfortable experience by having airports that are both modern and efficient. It’s clear to me that not every airline or airport experience is going to be great but I consider myself lucky that I was born in an era and also have had the means to travel both domestically and internationally.

To me, the experience of going to an airport to go to a far-off destination that’s new to me is really exhilarating and fills me with a deep sense of adventure. While the airport security workers may be too overzealous, the check-in counter machine may not work, and we could be delayed due to unforeseen mechanical issues, the destination is worth the price involved with traveling anywhere new. Not everybody has had the chance to fly anywhere or to fly to multiple places so I actually look forward to arriving at the airport, checking in to my flight, and boarding the plane. Sometimes, you have to hope for the best and to expect the worst when it comes to flying.

While airports aren’t perfect, I love what they symbolize and what they stand for. The free movement of peoples from different parts of the world, converging in one central location, to then be whisked off to another far away destination is pretty cool. The airport is a place where people of all backgrounds, faiths, and creeds can come together for a shared purpose: the desire to travel.

In my opinion, the more airports a nation has, the more that nation signals to others that they are open to the world and are not afraid of it. Airports are the beginning point in the global exchange of ideas, beliefs, and economic opportunities, and it’s important to make sure that they accommodate both travelers and the workers themselves to make these impressive places run so smoothly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Airports are like a living, breathing global city which represents an important piece of the economy, of society, and of human nature. You can see the good, the bad, and the ugly represented in any airport.

Once I have made it through security, through check-in, and have made it through the gate, a great sense of excitement washes over me. It is the truth that any trip that I have taken or will take in the future give me a strong desire to experience the unknown. I watch the plane take its place at our gate of departure and I observe the children, teenagers, businessmen, and elderly seniors board my flight. We, as passengers, may not have much in common at all besides the shared belief in the wonder of flight and how it can bring different breadths of humanity together under the same banner of discovering parts unknown.

Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

Book Recommendations – Volume VII

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky enough to do some good reading. Each of these three books are enjoyable, interesting and which hold different lessons about the state of the world and humanity at large. These three books come highly recommended from myself and are well worth the time invested to read them. If you are looking for a few books to read, as spring becomes summer, below you will see the 7th edition of my book recommendations which highlights Submission by Michel Houellebecq, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and A World in Disarray by Richard Haass.

71qwSzqHLcL

1.) Submission by Michel Houellebecq is an enjoyable and humorous take on French politics in the 21st The French author is known for his edgy content and his nihilistic take on modern life. Houellebecq is not known for writing about satire and for those who are a fan of his works, this novel was a sharp turn away from the other topics that he usually focuses on. Personally, I haven’t read the other novels associated with this writer but I really enjoyed this satirical look at French politics.

The premise of the novel is that there is a new political crisis in France. In order to stave off a win in the 2022 French presidential elections from Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, the Socialist party and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party are forced to align with a newly formed Muslim Brotherhood party led by its charismatic leader, Mohammed Ben-Abbes in order to achieve victory as a coalition. The main character, Francois, is a middle-aged Literature professor at the Sorbonne is going through his own mid-life crisis. While he enjoys teaching at the university and cavorting physically with some of his students, he struggles to find meaning in his life and is distraught at the loss of both of his parents. This is on top of the fact that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood party will affect his ability to keep his full pension and be able to keep his job.                                                                                                                       

On top of the probability of losing his teaching job at the Sorbonne as well as the fleeing of his steady Jewish girlfriend, Myriam, who leaves France for Israel in the face of rising anti-Semitism, Francois contemplates suicide but decides instead to seek refuge in a monastery in the town of Martel. Ironically, Francois, after going through a self-imposed exile for a few weeks, comes to realize that the world didn’t end when the Muslim Brotherhood party takes power. Instead of fighting the changes going on at the Sorbonne, Francois is intrigued by the fact that if he converts or ‘submits’ to Islam, he will be able to still find a prestigious job, keep his lucrative pension, and be able to have a few wives chosen for him since polygamy had become legal in France. The main character, Francois, is a spectator to the changing political landscape rather than an active player.

While this book is known for being controversial, I find it to be full of slapstick humor in making fun of the main character’s overly dramatic take on life. Francois is a mere spectator whose desire for alcohol, food, and sex overrides any core convictions that he may have politically. Mainly, Houellebecq is making fun of French intellectuals who can’t be bothered to invest in them beyond their own hedonistic desires.

His take on the political situation in France is an obvious dramatization and I don’t believe that he was looking to ruffle any feathers. The rise of an Islamic nationalist party in France in 2022 would be completely unrealistic which is what the author was making clear in focusing on the political satire associated with that idea. Overall, it is a witty, entertaining novel, which tells us more about human nature than it does about the precarious state of French politics in the 21st century.

51zJS6PmxbL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_

2.) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best books I have ever read. In all likelihood, this is the kind of book that you can come back to multiple times and still enjoy it. This is not your average history book in that it focuses more on the big ideas and developments associated with each era of human history rather than diving into the endless details and events related to each period. Instead of a 4,000 page behemoth focused on human history, Harari does a great job in condensing the how and why of Homo sapiens into only 400+ pages.

While I was reading this book, it didn’t feel laborious at all and was a real page-turner. Harari’s main argument in the book is that the homo sapien (the modern human) were able to dominate the Earth because of our ability to cooperate and share with each other in large numbers. The downfall of pre-homo sapiens such as the Neanderthals along with various other extinct animals and plants was the result of the Cognitive Revolution, which occurred at around 70,000 BCE.

The exciting developments related to the establishment of shared human myths and imaginary mainstays such as money, religions, human rights, nation-states, etc. directly tied to Homo Sapien culture put sapiens on the path to long-term survival and flourishing. Harari convincingly argues that the history of humanity can be broken down into four parts: the Cognitive Revolution (the development of imagination), the Agricultural Revolution (the formation of collective societies), the Unification of humankind (the rise of empires and nations), along with the Scientific Revolution (the emergence of scientific knowledge) which is the stage where sapiens currently find ourselves in.

Harari believes that the rise of Homo sapiens as a species has had significant consequences on the planet we all inhabit as well as the harsh treatment of animals that has resulted from being at the top of the food chain. Also, while the Agricultural revolution led to the creation of large human societies and eventually sprawling empires, the shift from hunter gathering to farming caused the human diet and lifestyle to suffer as a direct result. Human beings after agriculture became less self-reliant and had to rely on a king, an emperor, or the state itself to provide food, water, and other necessities. Out of all of the developments in human history, the rise of agriculture was a fundamental shift in our thinking, which still affects us in the modern society we all inhabit today.

Overall, Sapiens is an excellent, informative, and timely read that I would recommend to anyone. It’s an easy book to pick up and a hard one to put down. I am currently reading another book of his, which is the sequel to Sapiens, this book and the one that follows it just shows how good of an author and intellectual that Mr. Harari is.

51mz0ftqxyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

3.) A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Older by Richard Haass is a refreshing take on the topsy-turvy world of international relations in this current period. Mr. Haass, who is currently the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has advised previous U.S. presidents and worked as the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department during the Bush Administration, is an expert on world affairs who has published multiple books and this one in particular could not be timelier.

While the U.S. remains the most powerful country in the world both economically and militarily, it has started to lose ground in terms of its ability to sway world opinion and events due to failures of U.S. foreign policy in the early years of the 21st century. The lack of success in denuclearizing of the Korean peninsula, the rise of Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, and the mixed results of the East Asia ‘pivot’ from the Obama administration have created a worldwide power vacuum. Also, due to the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both U.S. prestige and values were harmed by these adventures in the Middle East. Haass argues correctly that the post-WWII order that the United States and its European allies helped create is fraying due to the failure of its leaders, institutions, and policies to maintain stability across the globe.             

There are real challenges to contend with that the United States won’t be able to solve on its own. The threat of climate change, the challenge of cyber-security, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons require a unified approach that has been lacking between the U.S. and its European allies. The events of Brexit, the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ isolationist policies, and the great power rivalries going on between Russia, China, and India have thrown the world in disarray. The days where the U.S. could have great influence and sway over events around the world may be drawing to a close. Haass sees that the U.S. is just one of the great global powers and must be willing to cooperate, collaborate with other powers in order to achieve results when the main issues of today are multilateral in nature.

In order for the world to follow America’s lead, Haass aptly understands that we must get our own house in order first. The rising national debt, the ongoing problems with investing in education, infrastructure, and health care prevent the United States from acting as an example to the rest of the world. A dysfunctional political process as well as a President who doesn’t believe in leading the international, post WWII order are preventing the United States from realizing its full potential as a global power.

For anyone who is new to international relations, A World In Disarray, is an excellent take on the history of the international system after World War II and how did we get to this point where the world seems more chaotic and unstable than ever. Mr. Haass understands the limits of American power and that in order to lead on the world stage; the U.S. must undertake reforms to benefit our own citizens at home. In order to solve complex, multilateral issues, the U.S. must value diplomacy and the relationships that we have with our allies. Where the U.S. used to be the only global superpower, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America is just one of the great powers now. In order to solve the multilateral issues of the 21st century, the United States cannot do it alone and we must be willing to use effective diplomacy and other forms of soft power to create peace and prosperity.

‘Revolutionary Road’ – Film Review and Analysis

The epic saga of Jack and Rose continues in the form of two young, suburbanite lovebirds in Connecticut who discover that married life may not be what they thought it would be. If anyone has seen the movie ‘Titanic’, you’ll notice that ‘Revolutionary Road’ features the same actors, Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio as romantically involved but not as star-crossed lovers but rather as a newly married couple. While this is a totally different film and in a different time period, part of what makes ‘Revolutionary Road’ a great and memorable film is the acting by DiCaprio and Winslet.

Once again, they are the leading roles in a movie where the acting can make or break the film. Similar to their previous movie together in ‘Titanic’, ‘Revolutionary Road’ is a character-driven film with intense emotional moments and a message that stays with you deeply after the final credits roll. Michael Shannon, a very well-renowned actor almost steals the show from Leonardo and Kate as John Giving, the brilliant yet disturbed son of the Wheelers’ neighbors, the Giving’s. Helen Giving (played by Kathy Bates) and her husband help the Wheelers to buy their home at 115 Revolutionary Road in suburban Connecticut.

‘Revolutionary Road’, released in 2008, was directed by Sam Mendes who has also directed other classic American movies including ‘Road to Perdition’ and ‘American Beauty.’ Mendes is a talented director who does an excellent job finding the right actors to fit the character-driven roles that they have to sell to the audience. In a way, ‘Revolutionary Road’ seems like a period piece precursor to the movie, ‘American Beauty’ in terms of its’ suburban setting and overall themes of dissatisfaction of life and a yearning for change.

Similar to his other movies, Mendes enlists Thomas Newman, my favorite movie composer to conduct the powerful and moving score to the film. The cinematography also draws you in especially in the penultimate moments where you see Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) running frantically out of remorse down Revolutionary Road after the climax of the movie. The movie’s title doesn’t give the audience too much detail on what it could be about or what the film focuses on. It is enough however to peak your curiosity especially with the two leading actors involved and the film does not disappoint in this aspect. Awarded with both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, ‘Revolutionary Road’ was a critical success even though it didn’t really light up the box office when it was released.

Unbeknownst to most, the film ‘Revolutionary Road’ was based off of the novel by Richard Yates of the same name. While the book was released in 1961, Yates wrote it as a referendum on the conformity of the 1950’s and how families across America were settling down in suburbs that were safe and secure yet did not leave much to the imagination. It’s a great work of fiction and the movie ‘Revolutionary Road’ sticks to the material quite well.

Like most couples of that age, Frank and April Wheeler meet at a friend’s party in 1948. Frank is a longshoreman and a former soldier during World War II while April is an aspiring actress when they first get to know each other. Frank’s father worked for 20 years for a sales company known as Knox Machines and sees himself in the same position unless he can think of something else. Frank is someone who is bored by the monotony of his work and desires to do something bigger with his life. Ironically, the less he cares about his sales job, the more the bosses like what he’s been doing. Frank falls in love with April and they marry each other.

The courtship and how well they actually knew each other before marrying is not covered in the film but it’s clear that they were both young when they married. The audience is left to infer that they really didn’t know each other all that well and what they expected out of their lives. After they get married, it is mentioned that April is pregnant with the couples’ first child. Because of the cheapness of land and the need for more space like many other American couples in the 1950’s, the Wheelers move to 115 Revolutionary Road in suburban Connecticut.

When April and Frank move in to Revolutionary Road, they are first welcomed by the realtor, Helen Givings (played by Kathy Bates) and her husband Howard Givings. The new couple is deemed to be perfect for this idyllic suburban town by the Givings even though their son, John (Michael Shannon), is unhappy with the way the Wheelers are living to each other. Lacking an understanding of normal social cues, John rants about the ‘hopeless emptiness’ of suburban living and questions the soundness of their marriage in front of them.

While the audience can see John Givings as initially crazy, as the film goes on, he actually starts to make the most sense out of anyone in the film. To The Wheelers, their other neighbors, the Campbells, are what they would aspire to be as the perfect suburban couple. They are a friendly couple, content with their lives, and seemingly in love with each other. However, as we go through the film, we realize that each couple: the Wheelers, the Givings, and even the Campbells are putting on a mask.

Out of the three couples in this film, we do spend the most time with the Wheelers who it seems were never truly meant through each other. They may have connected initially but they seem to us as two very different people. April is very footloose, wanting to enjoy life, and experience the world while Frank is content with who he is, what his career will be, and his contentedness with being a father. They are also not quite settled in their livelihoods when we meet as April is struggling to gain traction as an Actress and Frank is bored stiff at his sales job. Instead of supporting each other through the tough times, it remains a point of contention that either person hasn’t succeeded as much as they would like. While it seems that they are both not content with living in the suburbs or being married, they also have their two children to think about.

Because they are married and have children, it’s nearly impossible for them to uproot their lives as April suggests. A running theme throughout the film is their desire to move elsewhere including Paris which April endorses immediately yet Frank sees as being unrealistic. When you have people who depend on you, bills to pay, and jobs that get in the way, it’s hard to move anywhere including overseas. Their collective boredom at living in the suburbs starts to manifest itself elsewhere as they start to get bored with each other by seeking out extramarital affairs, excessive drinking, smoking, etc. to dull their pain. Instead of trying to work out their marriage problems or seek ways to better their lives separately, they drag each other through the mud with shouting matches and other more extreme actions.

While Paris is an escape for the two of them from their jobs, their repetitive jobs, and their monotonous suburban lifestyle, it’s clearer that they want to escape and get away from each other. As John Lennon famously stated, “Life is while happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Frank and April Wheeler never truly accept that their lives are not truly their own and they do have to make compromises when it comes to money, children, lifestyle, etc. When they plan to actually move to Paris, April gets pregnant again and Frank is offered a lucrative promotion at his sales job. Instead of accepting their new reality together, they lash out at each other and cause a lot of pain and suffering in the process.

You can see from the film that Frank and April Wheeler were not compatible people in terms of their relationship or marriage. As April bluntly opines to Frank during one of their fights, “You were just some guy that made me laugh at a party once.” It becomes clear to the audience that they would be happier living separate lives with Frank living as a successful salesman at his father’s former company in New York City while April tries to make it on her own as an actress working in Paris or Los Angeles. Both of them are not cut out for the married, suburban lifestyle but they are also equally not cut out for each other. They can use the suburbs, their children, their job situations as excuses but at the heart of the issue is their flawed relationship.

American society in the 1950’s helped to put a lot of pressure on young couples like the Wheeler’s to get married, have children, and then move to the suburbs where it’s safe and secure. However, it’s clear that this type of lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people are not meant to be married or to have children. Others are meant to live in cities or travel for their work. I can imagine that the cultural attitude in the 1950’s shunned this kind of critical thinking and encouraged a more conformist lifestyle that stifled people’s personal hopes, wants, and ambitions. You could say that the following decade, the 1960’s, changed American life forever in its expectations of people and how they could and should live their lives.

In closing, this film is a realistic and sobering look at how relationships and marriages can fail sometimes and that it can be very painful to live a life that’s not in line with your personal wants and needs.

Providence, Rhode Island

CamerasCanon PowerShot SX710 HS and iPhone 8

LocationProvidence, Rhode Island

What can the creative process give us?

Anything that is done in the creative process takes effort and hard work. Any work of art, any piece of music, any lengthy novel took days, weeks, months, and even years to create. The creative process allows any person to express oneself in any way they see fit. The idea to keep in mind is that it is best for somebody to discover what he or she would like to create based on what his or her interests are. They then must discover for themselves what exactly they are good at creating and what they have a passion for doing. Being creative cannot be forced on someone.

The person in question has to decide what they enjoy doing and how far their talent can take them. Sometimes, the person can discover his creative vocation on his or her own but other times, it’s often the recommendation of a close friend or family member who gives the person inspiration to continue on with their craft. The key to remember about the creative process is that it can add value to people’s lives and also provide substantive meaning for any human being.

Being creative allows you to step outside of yourself and observe the external world in some way to shape it in a way that you see fit. Whether it is painting, writing, sculpting, etc., you’re putting yourself out there to see how you can do it differently and how can you create something truly unique. The creative possibilities out there are infinite and it’s important to choose a hobby or interest that appeals to you and which you can devote serious time to.

Some other traits that you can develop besides being observant and aware of the world around you are to become more collaborative and open to learning from others. A creative person will learn from others who have come before him or her in order to develop themselves as an artist, writer, builder, etc. Without copying them directly or replicating their kind of work, a creator will take what they have learned and studied to develop their own style or add value to their field. You don’t have to become the next Mozart or Rembrandt but you should try to innovate or change up the creative field so as to do something that will be remembered in the future.

Collaborating with other creative people and working alongside them or just to learn from them can make you more skilled in your work. You can learn a lot of valuable lessons from other creative people and they can mentor you based on their years of experience if you’re just starting out. Even if you suffer setbacks or false starts, knowing that you have a network of people similar to you in your creative world who can give you advice or a new perspective will give you the extra motivation to continue forward and learn from your mistakes. Through collaboration, you’ll learn to be less defensive and tame your ego so that you can learn and become better at your creative vocation.

Harnessing your creative energies can make you more outgoing, more connected to the world and can make you more humble. In a world that seems to be moving faster and faster, being able to slow down, observe your surroundings, and collect your thoughts is a great way to fuel your creative impulses. While we cannot control much outside of our own choices and decisions, harness your creative abilities will give you a sense of control over the external world. You can also gain a lot of satisfaction from putting something out into the world even if it never gains popular recognition. To keep it as a healthy endeavor, exercising your creative abilities should never be done for the possible fame, fortune, or notoriety of it but rather for your own benefit.

Without any kind of creative outlet, humans can stagnate both mentally and physically. People can often be placed into two categories: producers and consumers. We have the capacity to do both but we are often told by the larger society and culture to consume, consume, and consume some more. While there’s nothing wrong with consumption within reason, being able to channel our energies into a productive endeavor can be good for both the mind and the body. This is especially the case when you’re working to solve a problem or to make life better for people. You don’t know what your own potential or capacity for creativity is until you begin to do it. Everybody has the ability to be creative but they have to figure out where they can contribute the most to an idea, a project, or a work of art.

There has never been a better time in human history to be a creative individual. The advent of the Internet and global social networking has allowed people of all backgrounds to express themselves in various ways. More than ever, the average person is a website, a YouTube channel, an eCommerce shop away from sharing their creativity with the world at the click of a button. While the creative process is long, challenging, and comes with no certain reward, the benefits to a person’s mental and physical health cannot be overstated. The Einsteins, Beethovens, and Rembrandts of the world knew that their creative contributions would change the world in one way or another. They did it not just for the world though but their own sense of fulfillment and purpose. Instead of asking themselves what they could receive from the world, they thought instead of what they could contribute to the world with their individual talents.

Being creative, innovative, and experimental comes with risks but also a number of rewards. Even if you fail or don’t reach your goals, you will still learn a lot about yourself as well as what you are capable of. The key is to keep working at it to find out what you are skilled at whether that’s being an artist, a writer, an architect, an engineer, etc. Everybody has a creative flame within them that can be harnessed and molded. You just have to figure out for yourself how to develop, practice, and become proficient in your craft throughout the creative process.