Being sick is a good excuse to sit on the couch and watch movies, and a weekend cold allowed me to leave the piles of late-falling leaves undisturbed on my lawn while I indulged in a trio of dark cinematic explorations of contemporary technology.
We (my wife and I) started with "Eye in the Sky," a tense, focused thriller about the moral dilemmas that arise for drone operators and their military and political supervisors when they have to weigh civilian casualties against the opportunity to kill terrorists. Brits tend to make Americans the bad guys in their movies, but it felt true to life, given the Obama administration's record of killing civilians in drone strikes, when, in the movie, the British politicians consult with the Americans, and the American politicians brush off the fact that a young innocent girl who is selling bread in the street will probably be killed in the strike. The anguish of the young drone pilots -- young Americans sitting in a trailer in the desert, their hands on controllers, their eyes on screens showing the target -- also feels real. How strange it must be for pilots like that to walk out of the trailer into the bright sun, having launched a missile a world away that incinerated a house and all the people inside.
Next we watched "Citizen 4," a documentary about Edward Snowden made by Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who was the first person he set up contact with after he decided to leak a trove of NSA documents to the public. It's an eye-opening glimpse into the vast power of the U.S. surveillance state, and a frightening survey of the powers Donald Trump will soon have at his fingertips.
Finally, we watched "Ex Machina," a film much less grounded in reality, but nonetheless a memorable experience. The film tells of a brilliant man's attempt to develop a robot with artificial intelligence and what happens when he brings a young programmer out to his remote compound to test it. It stars the amazing actor Oscar Isaac and the pretty great Domhnall Gleeson. If it had nothing else, the movie would be worth watching for a surreal dance sequence in the middle, the creepiness and hilarity of which must be seen to be appreciated, but it has much more than that. The ending, while a little bit of a letdown, also felt inevitable, and the movie balanced horror, comedy, thrills and artsy intellectual exploration up until almost the very end.