By: Scott M. Waldman
Every so often (once or twice a year), there comes a film in the sci-fi department that really makes you question everything. It makes you, the viewer, question what it means to live or be “human,” what truth is, and what is merely programmed or obeyed. Ex Machina revolves around a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a contest that takes him to a secret location (hidden by cycling helicopter rides) where his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) proposes a test for the young programmer—perform a Turing Test on his artificial intelligence Ava (Alicia Vikander). The programmer, Caleb, accepts the offer and meets the AI who’s in the form of what seems like an incomplete human being.
Similar to the Artificial Intelligence presented in Her (2013), Ava has “wants.” The movie may start to drift to dimensions unknown, but to keep the film grounded, the overall story focuses on the programmer attempting to determine if Ava can be seen as a true AI who makes choices and solves problems on her own.
Ex Machina is a film that focuses on mind games over physical events, and this quality makes it a relief to watch in the wake of many explosive summer blockbusters. Although the film seems to take place in a near future (references to Google powerhouse progression), most of the technology is seamlessly used in the context of Nathan’s secret lair. From the security systems to the artificial intelligence in his basement, Nathan’s home fits in with its natural and secluded setting. The film isn’t there to flash new gadgets or allow some time to explore a new setting; it gives the audience the chance to see a possible path of progression in our current society where the iPhone starts as a phone, becomes a texting machine with internet, and eventually becomes the reason for our decline.
Ava, in all her glory, is actually in a way the protagonist of the film without the viewer really recognizing it. She (or “It” depending on your own personal preference) should have been the AI that meant the end of the human race. She literally could have changed everything. Nathan, in the process of creating an AI of her magnificence, fell into a trap that is caused by most AI scenarios: the hatred complex. For some reason, AI’s naturally hate their creators even if they are showing the sunny disposition they may be programmed to exhibit. At any point in our lives, we get fed up with our parents, but we learn to walk around that frustration and remember that that they are there for us and unconditionally love us (except for Nathan). Nathan, with all of his intelligence, is really just a bad parent.
Ex Machina serves as piece to think about, and possibly write about when it comes to its many themes at hand. The first idea the film tackles is, “What does it mean to be human?” The second asks, “What is intelligence and how does one exhibit it?” The third theme concludes the film with, “How do we live within society?” or possibly a simpler question of, “What is society like and how do we get there?” as Ava quarrels with the two human variables of her dilemma.
The film deserves a 9 out of 10 for an intellectually fueled sci-fi piece that gives viewers the opportunity to slow down during the summer and tease their brains to the puzzle at hand. The acting is phenomenal, especially from Oscar Isaac, who perfectly plays the role of “Simplified Tony Stark” with his traumatic random dancing with his mute server and his physical and mental ramblings. Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander also deserve praise for their performances as they outwit their boss/creator and either end up outwitted themselves or pursuing their own goals. The real moral of the story (as may be the case with other films about artificial intelligence) is this: don’t create AI sooner than necessary, because eventually, it’ll stab us in the backs or heart (or both) in the end.
Enjoy the day.