Sometimes, there are movies that make you just sit in the theatre long after the film is over, pondering what just happened on screen and questioning your own sense of humanity. Ex Machina is one of them.
Humanity has been intrigued with the notion of Artificial Intelligence ever since the first computer turned on. Hollywood certainly has had its fun with the notion of sentient robots. How can we forget HAL, C3PO, T-800 or Wall-E? AI has been shown searching for humanity, or wanting to destroy it. They are friends and foes, but in most of these films, the AI exists in a world where AI is accepted. It’s implied that the technology has been around for years, glossing over what happens when that AI takes its first steps. Now we have two films doing that. We have Chappie, an action sci-fi film starring a mullet wearing Hugh Jackman. I haven’t seen it, but multiple reviews have stated that it feels more like a nature vs. nurture experiment, with guns and explosions. Ex Machina takes a different approach, looking at the relationship between man and machine with intense intimacy.
The audience follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), a talented computer programmer who has won a weeklong retreat in the home of his company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). After Caleb is airlifted into the middle of the expansive reserve that Nathan owns we only see 4 people for the rest of the film. Nathan’s house is a cool mixture of modern technology and nature, in the middle of one of the most beautiful forests I’ve ever seen in my life, but it’s also in the middle of nowhere. Nathan lives in complete isolation, along with his non-English speaking house worker, Kyoko (Sonoyoa Mizuno) and he has a reason for it. He explains to Caleb that he has been developing an AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander), and he wants Caleb to be apart of a Turing test to see if Ava has reached official AI status. The Turing test is the theory that if a human can have a conversation with a computer and not know that they are speaking to a computer, it means that the computer has reached a level of conversation that could imply it has intelligence. So Caleb meets Ava, and the test commences. Nathan starts acting weird, Caleb starts getting suspicious, it starts to go in a direction you might expect from a barely born AI story, but then takes a complete left turn when you least expect it. And that’s all you’re getting story wise from me because you should all go watch it.
The real draw here is solid actors exploring the relationship between man and machine. Rising star Domnhall Gleeson (who is starring in the new Star Wars franchise) spends most of the film looking around with a quirky smile, mainly acting as a conduit between Ava and Nathan. Oscar Isaac is a tour de force as Nathan, and I am no longer nervous about his upcoming roles in the X-Men and Star Wars franchises. With his intense stare and fondness for alcohol, Nathan has a god complex. And somewhat understandably so. He has, essentially, created new life. But he’s always looking towards the future. He looks past Ava and humanity, to the future. Newcomer Sonoyoa Mizuno gives an amazing performance without uttering a single word, each movement executed with a determined grace, and I honestly couldn’t keep my eyes off her. And of course, we have Alicia Vikaner as the Ava. Ava isn’t some newborn chick, but she’s not a calculating killer that many AI stories would have her be. She is an intelligent, curious young woman, designed to interact and learn. Vikander approaches the role with subtle facial expressions and a hunger in her eyes that transfixes not just Caleb, but the audience.
And finally, something has to be said about the direction of this film. This is Alex Garland’s directorial debut, and needless to say, I cannot wait to see what else he has in store for us. He has created a film so intimate there were moments I forgot there was a screen separating us from the actors. The film on the whole was just visually striking; every scene was just pretty to look at, like a national geographic special or something. Garland has a keen eye for this stuff, and he has given us the sci-fi thriller we’ve needed for quite some time.
I left the theatre questioning whether or not I would want AI to become a reality. Not because I’m afraid they’re going to kill us, but the moral ramifications of it. When the first AI is created, what happens to it when we upgrade to the next model? If an AI is self-aware, is turning it off to upgrade it into something different essentially killing it? These are the things Ex Machina asks, and doesn’t necessarily answer. A psychological, sci-fi thriller to the final moment, it will linger with you for days after, until you realize that we don’t have AIs yet, so you don’t have to have a crisis about it.
I paid 15 pounds for this, which is about…22 dollars. Probably the most expensive movie ticket I have ever bought, but honestly? Totally worth it. It comes out April 10th in the USA, and I hope it will still be playing somewhere in the states when I come home in May, cause 10/10 would see again.