Ex Machina is a sci-fi masterpiece…
What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to think and feel, dream and cry? The complexities of human emotions and the brain, riddled mankind with questions ever since we first began using rudimentary tools to hunt, until now even though we find ourselves effortlessly assimilating into a world of fiber optics and 3D printers. Our only certainty in life and the only thing we can hold on to as fact about ourselves is that we aren’t machines. They are cold lumps of metal and plastic rather than flesh and blood, they think in 1s and 0s while we think in opinions and fantasies. But what happens when robotics reaches the point of AI (artificial intelligence) when machines can walk, talk and act like us, would we still be able to tell the deference? Can we still say with certainty who is and isn’t a machine? Also when this time finally comes and it will come, should we be afraid of our creations like Terminator or iRobot would like to suggest or are AI’s nothing to be afraid of like in the near utopian representation in Star Trek. These are the very same big questions asked honestly, imaginatively and very compellingly by writer/director Alex Garland and Ex Machina.
With a rather charming parable to Charlie and the Chocolate factory, main character Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer for the world’s most popular search engine Bluebook (sorry Google), is awarded the proverbial golden ticket and is given a chance to visit Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a genius of robotics at his secluded test lab/ subterranean mansion deep in the middle of blissful nowhere. Like a giddy school girl at first Caleb is in absolute awe of Nathan, to put this into perspective it’s like learning to play the guitar one day and the next you’re invited to play with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. But Nathan didn’t invite Caleb for him to go all starry eyed, he respects Caleb’s talent and genius and urges him to treat the situation like two normal guys having a causal conversation about AI’s. Eventually Caleb is shown to his room to get settled, but as he ventures deeper into the bowels of the house the lack of windows and constant humming of low lights gives Caleb an irking feeling, but Nathan quickly bats it away. But still as the audience we can’t help but notices how prison like the place looks and if you were trapped in it, would anyone ever hear you scream? Matters are still not helped when every so often all the light turn a sinister dark red and the door automatically lock, but more about that later.
Eventually it comes the time for Caleb to meet Ava (Alicia Vikander), a very humanoid looking robot. Nathan intrusts Caleb to determine if Ava has true artificial intelligence, to the extent you forget all the wires and electrical pulses running through her body and believe she is truly human through simple conversation and his careful study. As the days go by, despite being separated by a seemingly impenetrable plain of glass, Caleb grows ever compelled by Ava who demonstrates a sweat, attentive and curious air. With night spent watching her on CCTC and reporting enthusiastically his interactions with her to Nathan, it become abundantly clear like Theodore in Her Caleb has grown feelings for an AI. However his world is turned upside down, when Ava admits to being responsible for the power failures so she can exploit the opportunity to warn Caleb about Nathan, who she climbs to being untrustworthy. This leaves Caleb with the ultimatum, trust in his hero or believe a robot he is slowly falling in love with.
At just under 100 minutes, the running time is short and sweat but no less than every minute of the film is packed with intelligent debates about the nature of AI and questions about the future of AI’s. Could they possibly be the next step in human evolution? Could you fall in love with one? Could they love you back? Do they even know what love is? However don’t be mislead, Ex Machina isn’t film lecture over concerned with asking and answering questions, the story remains taunt and gripping all the way through.
You can’t help but notice the delicate yet deadly dance the characters do around each other in attempts not to get caught out. Each possesses their own secrets and motives yet almost perfectly shrouds them under their facades…almost. Nathan through his work has clearly acquired a god complex, even though he subscribes to the notion that he is doing it for the good of mankind. While Caleb considers himself far more mature and intelligent than his age or job description suggests, but truly you feel he is slightly naïve and out of his depth. Unlike the splendid scenic location and beautifully crafted interiors, the humans of the film show how flawed they are and quickly their facades begin to crumble when truly scrutinised and tested by paranoia and insecurities.
Going back to the beautifully crafted interiors; the set designing of Ex Machina deserve a standing ovation and in the same way Nathan admired Jackson Pollock’s paintings, we must do the same for Ex Machina aesthetic – simple, stylish and very futuristic. But the real star of the show is the way one location and a mere three characters can hook you from start to finish. Each played their role expertly; Domhnall brought an endearing innocence to his role and gave the air of Alice falling through the rabbit hole for the first time and waking up in a strange new world. Alicia was the definition of duality, on the surface she seemed lovely and attentive while below the surface you sensed a cold, calculating cunning. Then you have Oscar Issac, my favourite actor of the moment and completely deserving of all the recognition he is currently receiving, can’t wait to see him in Star Wars! Oscar was dark, fiercely intelligent and every word that came out of his mouth felt sinister and manipulative. They don’t call him Oscar for nothing, his performance has award gold written all over it!