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Bluebeard Ex Machina

In response to:

The Robots Are Winning! from the June 4, 2015 issue

To the Editors:

Daniel Mendelsohn’s review of Her and Ex Machina [NYR, June 4] was a pleasure to read and replete with intriguing connections; the kind of article one clips and files away for future reference. However, I was surprised that, in regard to Ex Machina, he passed over the striking similarities, not to say inspiration, of the story of Bluebeard. The forbidden secrets, the former “wives” hanging on hooks, were straight out of the seventeenth-century French fairy tale.

And while Professor Mendelsohn provided a marvelous discussion of the long, one could almost say archetypal, anxiety that human ingenuity raises, the dynamic of the Bluebeard tale, with its suppression of woman in service to male megalomania, is certainly equally powerful, and even older. Fellini did a masterful job with this theme in 8 1/2, taming it with humor and even poignancy; Alex Garland’s vision returns the fear and horror of the original tale.

Geoffrey Brown
Columbus, Ohio

Daniel Mendelsohn replies:

I am very grateful indeed to Geoffrey Brown for alerting readers to the important Bluebeard motif in Alex Garland’s richly allusive film—and, I must say, a bit perplexed as to why I didn’t mention it myself, since I find not one but three references to Bluebeard in the notes I took while watching the movie (including one referring to Nathan’s “Bluebeard-like closet”!). I fear that, in my eagerness to underscore the classical provenances of the robot narrative, I overlooked the French. As the film’s young Caleb might say, “My bad!”