Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno
After winning a company lottery, Caleb (Gleeson) wins the chance to spend a week with genius programmer Nathan (Isaac). Responsible for building the world’s leading search engine, Nathan is a recluse but welcomes Caleb into his home and gets his opinion on his latest project. He’s attempting to create an artificial intelligence in the form of Ava (Vikander), and wants Caleb to test her to see if she can pass the Turing test. Yet as Caleb questions Ava he begins to realize Nathan’s eccentric behaviour and starts to suspect that there’s something darker happening.
Being a Trekkie and a general sci-fi geek I’ve seen a lot of things that have explored the nature of humanity and what it means to be alive. I even did a module in my Philosophy degree titled The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence. So you’d assume that Ex Machina is right up my street, and you’d be right.
The film wastes no time in sending Caleb out to Nathan’s place to set up the films central premise. It’s split into different sessions with Ava over a week, and it shows her bonding with Caleb as he tries to test her. This leads to a number of humours exchanges, lightening the mood of the film somewhat. The other main relationship is between Caleb and Nathan, which is far more unpredictable than the relationship with Caleb and Ava. Nathan is eccentric in every sense of the word and one can never guess what he is going to next. he and Caleb share a number of awkward conversation that feel more like a predator trying to trap his prey.
Parts of the film were incredibly tense, and this tension was released at just the right moment. Coupled with bizarre sequences, like the dance sequence (you’ll understand when you see the film), it gives the feeling that you’re in a trance. I was absolutely immersed in the film. Garland intersperses shots of nature throughout the film, and there are a few things Ava does that harken back to Christian mythology where humans discover the feeling of shame at their naked bodies, and seek to cover themselves up.
Using artificial intelligence to highlight our own humanity has been prevalent in Star Trek but Ex Machina explores it in a way that feels plausible. It’s set at an unspecified time, but it’s not in a far-flung future where we’re whizzing about in starships. It’s a relatable world and given the ever-progressive nature of technology it only feels like a question that’s going to become more relevant. That being said, I’m not sure the film does make an explicit conclusion about the issue. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps it’s left to the viewer to decide, and to examine what their definition, and indeed meaning, of life, intelligence, consciousness, is.
Having been exposed to this concept I was aware of some of the twists that could have taken place and I was satisfied when the script addressed concerns I had. I do think that for people who are versed in the subject matter this may not take them by surprise, whereas for others who are coming into this having only a passing curiosity may find it incredibly original. But whatever the case, it’s still a gripping film with superb performances from the three leads. I recommend it highly. It feels like a Star Trek mixed with the grim tone of Blade Runner and it provides a lot for discussion.