Release Date: April 10, 2015 (Limited)
Director: Alex Garland
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 108 min.
What is it exactly that makes us “human beings?” What, scientifically speaking, determines our intelligence? Is it our intellect? Is it because we are cognizant? Is it our morality? Is it because we have the ability to learn? Rudimentarily speaking, aren’t we nothing more than living, breathing computers? We’re walking I/O towers.
When it comes to artificial intelligence, what determines if an A.I. has attained consciousness? Who makes that determination? Who is really qualified to make that conclusion? Artificial intelligence has been the subject of many great films, and as of late, Hollywood has embraced that theme. From the recent Her and Automata films to the soon-to-be-released Marvel blockbuster, modern cinema is exploring A.I. and its impact on the world. Alex Garland, in an auspicious directorial debut, takes a look at the complexities of artificial intelligence in his science fiction/drama Ex Machina.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young coder at Blue Book, a web search engine powerhouse, wins the opportunity of a lifetime to meet with the company’s CEO, a reclusive genius who resides in a remote private mountain estate. Upon arriving, his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), tells Caleb why he has been brought there. He has been selected to test Nathan’s latest breakthrough.
Nathan believes he may have created the first artificially intelligent being, and Caleb will determine if the being, called Ava (Alicia Vikander), has achieved awareness. Ex Machina is an oft told tale, but it’s the complexities and thought-provoking questions it raises that sets it apart from your average, run-of-the-mill sci-fi yarn. Garland not only directed but also wrote an intelligent, witty and engaging screenplay. At its core the film really tries to examine what it is that makes us human. The complexities of human nature are quite evident as Caleb gets to know this beautiful and artificial creation.
Are Ava’s reactions real or just programming? And by comparison, are Caleb’s reactions real when they are simply programmed responses that were learned as well? How are Ava’s reactions not real when they seem as legitimate as Caleb’s? Has she or hasn’t she achieved consciousness? That is the rub, and it makes for a fun ride and some great post-credits discussion.
The film features three excellent performances by its leads. Gleeson is quite convincing as Caleb. He portrays him as a very smart man who tackles problems with both his mind and his heart. He’s not your stereotypical programming nerd who is so often portrayed in most films about A.I. Oscar Issac is great as Nathan. You get the sense that he is genius and is often amusing with his devil-may-care, rich-boy attitude. He’s a smart man, a shrewd man, a man who knows what he wants, and despite the fact that he comes off as a prick sometimes, you still respect his mind…for the most part. Finally, Alicia Vikander is outstanding as Ava, the artificial intelligence. She is very believable; the phenomenal CGI work certainly helped, as a beautiful, naïve robot that is learning its place in this world. More importantly you get the sense that there is more there than just ones and zeroes formulating a calculated response.
Ex Machina is like a 21st-century Frankenstein. The themes that Mary Shelley explored in her classic novel are quite evident in Garland’s film. He successfully displays the awe, wonder and danger of creation while exploring the fundamentals of human nature. With a solid cast and its outstanding visual effects, Garland’s potent morality tale adds further fuel to the fire about whether man’s quest for A.I. is a noble or foolish pursuit.