Eva, Lovely Girl and Defective Robot

This is a slightly extended version of an October 2014 article (now here) in Pigtails in Paint. A French translation can be found here.

Eva is a 2011 Spanish film by Kike Maíllo, usually considered to be science fiction. Outwardly it deals with robotics and one sees several animated robots in it with various roles from receptionist to pet; but to me, this feels like showing off. There is nevertheless a poetical aspect to them as they can be switched off by saying “What do you see when you close your eyes?

Then there is Max, the perfect human-looking robotic butler, cook and cleaner, brilliantly played by Lluís Homar, who proactively takes care of everything in the house without needing any orders and can even adapt his emotional level to suit his client’s tastes; however, his personality seems too perfect and predictable to capture our interest.

There are also several discussions about science between the adult human characters: Julia (Anne Canovas), director of the robotics research program, Álex (Daniel Brühl), the scientist who strayed from the project for ten years, his brother David (Alberto Ammann), and Lana (Marta Etura), Álex’s former love now living with David. To a large extent, I find their talk pedantic, it looks like the script writers and the director know nothing about science, research and the people who make a living doing it.

Kike Maíllo - Eva

Kike Maíllo – Eva (2011)

Moreover the film shows a computer interface made of shiny glass balls, similar to Christmas tree decorations, each ball corresponding to an aspect of the robot’s personality, such as curiosity, pride, etc., and the designer can change their size to modify that aspect of the personality of the robot. The director Kike Maíllo seems very proud of that artefact, for he uses it as background of the opening credits. In an interview with Abus de Ciné, the journalist asks him where he got this idea, and Maíllo answers:

“It comes from a science called “phrenology,” dating from the beginning of the XIXth century, which claims that each part of the brain is devoted to a feeling: to be able to distinguish colours, graciousness, empathy … One can thus move pieces, enlarge them, put them into relation, to create the personality of the robot.”

Kike Maíllo - Eva

Kike Maíllo – Eva (2011)

In fact, phrenology is a completely discredited pseudoscience, based on the two false suppositions that the different areas of the brain correspond to psychological traits or cognitive capacities, and that their sizes are reflected in the shape of the skull (from which comes the so-called “maths bump” in popular language). Definitely Kike Maíllo does not understand science.

Besides robotics, there is a bit of adult romance, with a love triangle between the two brothers and the woman they both love. However, I find this aspect of the film a pointless distraction from the real story.

So, where does the interest of this movie lie? In Eva, it is the fascinating and beautiful ten-year-old girl played by Claudia Vega and her complex relationship with Álex. Her name appears fifth in the opening credits, but deserves to be first (or at least second, after Brühl), since she is in fact central to the film. The first image is of Claudia Vega as Eva.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega – Eva (2011)

Here goes the story; the year is 2041. After ten years of absence abroad, Álex returns to Spain to resume his project of a new-generation robot indistinguishable from a human being. He is greeted by his brother David and meets again his colleague and former love Lana, who is now with David. After visiting Julia’s laboratory at the university and discussing it with her, Álex decides to work on his project in his late father’s house outside town, which has a lab in the basement. There he gets Max to take care of his material needs. Looking for a model for his robot, he meets Eva in the street. Being invited to dine at Lana’s home, he discovers that Eva is in fact her daughter. Here we see Eva with Lana.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva) et Marta Etura (Lana)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega and Marta Etura (as Lana) – Eva (2011)

In the following days, Eva bicycles to his house, and he works on experiments with her in his lab, measuring her emotional reactions to design the psychology of his new robot. Here, Eva is inside Álex’s lab.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega – Eva (2011)

Álex becomes attached to her. After flirting with Lana followed by a fight with the jealous David, Lana visits Álex in his lab and reveals that during his ten-year absence, she completed his robot project, and that Eva is the result—a robot, not a girl. But Eva is listening from a window just above the basement. Here, we see Eva approaching Álex’s lab.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega – Eva (2011)

This shot shows Eva listening.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega – Eva (2011)

Panicked at the revelation, Eva flees to the mountains where she has a battery failure and becomes unconscious. Lana finds her and replaces the battery. Waking up, Eva feels betrayed and, still panicked, pushes Lana over a cliff and runs back to Álex’s house where Max takes care of her. Then Julia comes and tells Álex that when Eva was built, she did not pass the security tests, so was supposed to be deactivated, but Lana took the initiative of halting the procedure so Eva could live with her. Julia insists that Eva must be switched off, saying that she is not a human being and that “she did not hesitate to kill Lana.” Álex answers that he will do it himself.

The most interesting part of the film comes on the last day. Álex greets Eva with, “Good morning, princess.” After an outing with Max to go skating and see the mountains, Eva tells Álex “I want to become a gentle little girl” before their return home. The final scene has a strong erotic undercurrent; in the lab, Eva takes Álex by the hand, goes to a bed, takes off her shoes and lies down on it. Holding Álex’s hand, she tells him how Lana used to read her a tale from the Arabian Nights about a princess marked for death by her prince thwarting execution by reciting endless stories to him night after night. Eva falls into Álex’s arms, begging for his protection when he says the fateful sentence, “What do you see when you close your eyes?“; she collapses and dreams about being in a family with Álex and Lana.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva) et Daniel Brühl (Álex)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega and Daniel Brühl (as Álex) – Eva (2011)

In the relationship between Álex and Eva, there are allusions to a “predator” theme. The first time they meet, as he watches her from his car, she jokingly calls him a pervert; when he gives her a single piece of candy, she jests that he is a “professional pervert.” Her tale is also suggestive of Little Red Riding Hood; first, because she wears a red cloak, but also because in visiting Álex in his lab, she disobeys Lana’s order never to leave town with her bike. Here, Eva is seen wearing her red cloak.

Kike Maíllo - Claudia Vega (Eva)

Kike Maíllo – Claudia Vega – Eva (2011)

Director Kike Maíllo gave several interviews to French and Spanish cinema journals and one can get an idea of his views about the mind and behaviour of Eva; I have translated some excerpts from a few French ones.

In an interview with Cinespagne, the journalist mentions that Eva: “… is a woman in the body of a little girl,” and Maíllo says,

“It is a character difficult to define, since one never knows where she stands. Is she flirting with Álex or is she having a friendship?”

In Films-horreur.com, the journalist mentions that “the relationship between Eva and the programmer is rather peculiar” and Maíllo says:

“Álex, the programmer, is looking for a model for his child robot and he finally chooses Eva, who is not really a 10-year-old little girl. Anyway, the jokes that she throws at him and her actions (verging on flirtation) are not those of a girl her age. Her character is written as a woman in the body of a child—a Lolita in some way.”

On Fantasy.fr, he says:

“But because she is a woman in the body of a child, she is a Lolita. She is clearly not a child as one would think. … For me, Álex is not interested in children; they bore him. When he sees them at the university, he remains indifferent. It is just because she is very special; she speaks like an adult. She is able to understand and play with the word `pervert’ just like an adult. This is something that you would hear from the mouth of a 16-year-old adolescent, not of a 10-year-old girl.”

These words illustrate the relentless tendency of our culture to incapacitate and desexualize young people at ever increasing ages. In reality, children are very curious about sexuality; they gather whatever information they can from playground talk or the internet. Long ago, I personally heard an 8-year-old make a sensible jest about “dykes.” Moreover, at age 10, children are able to elaborate rational judgments, and their sexual orientation is to a large extent established. Hence adults are regularly astonished by the feats of preteens, in awe and wonder at an 11-year-old who behaved responsibly as a rational adult in a critical situation, explaining afterward that she just did what she had learned, or a 13-year-old who performed good scientific research leading to real applications; but conversely, adults become both frightened and fascinated by so-called “Lolitas,” girls who express their natural sexuality.

In all pre-industrial cultures, teenagers were treated as adults and in many “primitive” societies, children at around age 10 underwent initiations, often painful, in order to mark their passage into adulthood. In fact, there is nothing abnormal in Eva’s behaviour with Álex; she is just an intelligent and autonomous girl.

Another problem is the harshness of the decision to terminate Eva because, as a humanoid robot, she is “dangerous” and committed a homicide. Indeed, sometimes children accidentally or intentionally kill people, but they are not killed in return. Are artificially intelligent beings not given the same human rights?

In an interview with Abus de Ciné, Maíllo states:

“In my film, the point of view is always carried by the humans, on the capacity to forget that one is facing a machine—above all, if one wants to create a link, a relationship. In `A.I.’, this point of view goes very far. It lets us think that a day will come when machines will be so evolved that they will be able to have feelings. Personally, I don’t believe it. They will always be characters; they play roles, deceive us, imitate us. They are only reflections.”

One sees here that the director really thinks of artificial humans like Eva as inherently soulless and defective and that they could never be like humans. In fact, they are deviant, thus they do not deserve a human life. Eva’s abnormality, confirmed at the end, was suggested at an earlier moment in the film, when she takes psychological tests and we see that she does not correctly interpret emotions in human faces—a bit like autistics.

In Steven Spielberg’s film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the robot child was considered defective by humans, but he was finally redeemed as humanity became extinct and were replaced by robots. There is no such prospect for Eva.

Deviance was first identified and persecuted under religious authority, using the term heresy. The heretic seems pious, but is not, since he actually serves the Devil. Only the orthodox can be a good person. The orthodox sins despite his faith, while the heretic sins because of his perverse belief. Later on, the clergy was replaced in part by psychiatry (as explained by Thomas Szasz), and the deviant became the madman, then the sexual pervert; the latter idea took other names such as sexual psychopath, predator or paraphiliac. His vice has evolved through the last two centuries, from masturbation to homosexuality and finally to paedophilia. The sexual deviant does not feel love, but only lust. The orthodox heterosexual seeks happiness, falls in love and engages in courtship; the deviant seeks sexual gratification, targets a victim and engages in selfish grooming and manipulation. Sex crimes committed by the orthodox are just individual cases of anti-social behaviours; the same crimes committed by the deviant are supposedly an expression of his true perverted nature.

So deviants are to be removed from society, the religious heretics were burned and the sexual ones are locked up (sometimes remaining so after serving their sentences), or subjected to chemical castration; and robots can simply be switched off. However, as Alex Proyas’ film I, Robot showed magisterially, perfect obedience and conformity on the part of robots leads to tyranny, so robotic deviance is necessary to preserve freedom. I guess the same holds for human beings.

The great mathematician Alan Turing, who during World War II helped crack the secret codes of the German Navy and invented the principles of computers—and proving the extent of their limitations—also discussed the intelligence of machines. He proposed the “Turing Test” which stated that a machine interacting with humans—that is indistinguishable from a human being—must have intelligence; he answered the numerous objections to the idea of a machine’s mind. Incidentally, he was a sexual deviant by the standards in the UK of the fifties and he was convicted for homosexual behaviour. In order to avoid prison, he was forced to undergo chemical castration before later committing suicide.

A film critique (in French) by Olivier Bachelard in Abus de Ciné says about the character of Eva: “However the latter does not appear sufficiently ambiguous to make us adhere to an idea of potential danger.” He concludes:

“… a tension that rises progressively, without reaching for peaks. It is there that the film disappoints somewhat. By excessive graciousness, it remains inside political correctness, engenders little suspense and remains within the domain of gentle illustration, despite its discourse about latent violence. It is as though maybe someone used the famous reinitialization sentence on the director, `What do you see when you close your eyes?’. One would have liked to see a real thriller. They preferred to offer us a little film targeting families. One comes away a little bit disappointed, but subjugated by some images.”

Indeed, in some ways Kike Maíllo spoiled his own film by remaining stuck to the infantilizing “family” style and not daring to challenge current prejudices about everything that is not “normal.”

Video interview of Kike Maíllo in AlloCiné (in English with French subtitles, and commentary in French).

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