GENRE: Drama, Sci Fi
DIRECTOR: Alex Garland
WRITER: Alex Garland
STARS: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
PLOT: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
Alex Garland is an amazing writer, with best selling books like The Beach and The Teseract turned into films and also original screenplays like 28 Days Later, Dredd and Sunshine receiving acclaim. But with Ex Machina he has made the jump into the world of Writer/Director.
Caleb works as a programmer for BlueBook, the world’s most popular search engine. When he wins a competition to spend a week at a mountain retreat with the company’s CEO Nathan Bateman, he finds himself the centre of technology’s most important Turing Test. Initially overawed by his surroundings, Nathan and the significance of his task, Caleb soon starts to become disaffected by Nathan’s arrogance. This is initially demonstrated by a quip from Caleb about the advancements of AI pushing us from the age of man to the age of gods being spun into an anecdote where Caleb looks up into the eyes of Nathan saying “you are a god”.
As Caleb gets to know Ava, the humanoid robot he is testing, he starts to become attached and struggles to decide wether it is programming or consciousness that has created the bond. It is this question that stays throughout most of the film as the audience is left to decide Ava’s intentions (and their origins) for themselves.
For his directorial debut, Garland could not have picked a better film. The simplicity of its limited sets are hidden by the high art and hyper-styled future minimalism. The small cast were perfectly chosen and whilst Alicia Vikander (Ava), Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb) will get many plaudits for their vulnerable performances, it is Oscar Isaac (Nathan) that stood out. His performance as the mysterious and manipulative genius is as good as any of the Best Supporting Actor nominees from last years awards season, so hopefully we will see his name in lights soon.
As we continue into a 6th decade of Moore’s Law and with companies like Google and Facebook holding so much data about human interactions, it is conceivable that AI of the level shown in Ex Machina is already being developed. This makes the film resonate, but there are also parallels to be drawn with oppressive regimes in the likes of North Korea (if the western propaganda is true), where free will has a ceiling.
Ava herself asks the biggest question when discussing the ending of the project and her effective death. Caleb is asked if she will be switched off and replies that it is not up to him. Ava’s responds “why is it up to anyone?” This is the question that we should all ask.
Once something has consciousness, do we have the right to interfere?
One of the most stylish films of the year. Ex Machina delivers an interesting and intriguing take on not only the moral and ethical questions of artificial consciousness, but also on the power of information in the Google age.