Ex Machina: Thought-Provoking & Thrilling – Our Film Review

EX MACHINA is the direct descendant of BLADE RUNNER, the 1982 sci-fi cult classic.  Both films ask the questions:

  • When is Artificial Intelligence sentient?
  • If you made an AI, would it be your property to do what you please?
  • Does an AI have rights?
  • Would you expect an AI to have feelings?
Swedish actress and dancer Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) pulls a young techie into an AI web, in Ex Machina (2015)  - A24 Films
Playing God: Alicia Vikander is the beautiful AI in the impressive Alex Garland’s Ex Machina – our film review on Brave New Hollywood

Written and directed by long-time Danny Boyle collaborator, Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE), EX MACHINA is an uneasy drama set in an isolated, intimate luxury bunker of  zillionaire, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).  Nathan is the visionary CEO of fictional company Blue Book, the biggest search engine company in the world.

Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson in Ex Machina (2015)
Tech billionaire Nathan (Oscar Isaac) chooses Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to test the human likeness of his creation in Ex Machina – A24 Films

In a not so subtle jab at Google and its data mining and profiling, Nathan boasts that he’s created an AI using the sum knowledge of everyone who’s used a search engine.  The algorithms, the patterns, everything.  The result is the beautiful AI, Ava (Alicia Vikander) who is either a sentient AI or the perfect simulation of a human.

And that’s what Nathan wants to know.  He’s flown in one of his employees, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), to test her.  He wants to apply a version of the Turing Test which is a test of a machine’s ability to be indistinguishable from a human.

But because we’re dealing with a megalomaniac of an entrepreneur, Nathan already botches the test with hidden agendas ripe with his own ego.  He grandly misquotes Caleb’s quotes, relishing that in creating an AI, he has become a god.

Like any good thought-provoking sci-fi, EX MACHINA asks a lot of “what if’s” questions and the consequences of playing God.  Gleeson plays the nerd-coder loner with bang-on cynicism.  He’s intelligent enough to figure out he’s being played, but he’s too nice of a person to know how big the game is.

Director Alex Garland and actress Alicia Vikander collaborate on Ex Machina - A24 Films
Visualizing perfection. Director Alex Garland with actress Alicia Vikander working on Sci-Fi thriller, Ex Machina – A24 Films

Isaac (who, coincidentally, will be appearing with Gleeson in the upcoming STAR WARS movie), chews up the scenery as the CEO from hell doing a TED talk, overconfident and arrogant – no surprise to anyone who’s dealt with high tech entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.

And Vikander is captivating as Ava, balancing innocence and sensuality. EX MACHINA spends its budget on Ava, making a robot with transparent limbs. Her calm performance is reminiscent of Sean Young’s replicant, Rachel, in BLADE RUNNER. When Ava asks Caleb “What will happen if I fail your test?” you know she’s aware she’s just someone’s property.

EX MACHINA is an impressive directorial debut from Garland.  It’s not going to please everyone – the theater I was in had a couple angry feminists who felt the film was more about male fantasy – owning a perfect female robot. But Ava could have been male or female in form and still ask the bigger issues of sentience.  It’s a familiar sci-fi morality tale brought up to date as we lose our privacy rights, so that every like on Facebook or Google search for porn provide fodder for some company to tailor a solution to meet our needs.

CLICK HERE to see the trailer for Ex Machina.

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