I’ve said it before, but never quite in this way: “That girl is so thin she’s practically invisible.” You can see right through her, and that’s kind of the point. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer who wins a company-wide competition to spend a week with Googl- I mean, Bluebook’s creator and owner, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). He is immediately whisked off to Nathan’s ridiculously large and recluse estate somewhere in the do-not-disturb part of Norway. After Caleb signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement, Nathan reveals that his luxurious abode is in fact a research facility for Artificial Intelligence and that Caleb will be part of an experiment. Ex Machina is separated into chapters based on Caleb’s visits with Ava (Alicia Vikander), a shockingly lifelike and free-thinking robot with plastic limbs and a hipster fashion sense. Caleb’s purpose is to conclude on whether or not Ava’s A.I. is so believable he forgets that she is a robot. I bet Stephen Hawking and John Connor would have a few words to discuss here.
This is a talking movie. After every Ava visit, Caleb and Nathan sit down with drinks in hand and discuss the psychological intricacies of the hot mannequin in the basement. As a result, Ex Machina is like the love child of philosophy and computer programming. Every aspect of what differentiates “human” from “human-like” is questioned and examined. Can human interaction exist without an awareness of gender? Is self-preservation programmable or an evolutionary trait? Is desire all it takes to initiate trickery, manipulation, and deception, and will those emotions override innocence and obedience? Ex Machina doesn’t drop CGI robots through skylights or set them loose on gun-happy Will Smiths. No. It sits in a room and talks to them, talks about them, watches them, and examines their reactions. Ava is the mouse, the men are the scientists, and the outside world is the cheese.
All this talking has to be done in an interesting way to capture your attention. The film delivers with deep, creative, insightful dialogue that is often poetic. We examine every aspect of what goes into A.I. and what makes it so believable and independent to the point where humans as a species are at risk. We hear the theories, we see the tests, and it all clicks into place. Ex Machina has the robot science on lockdown. Ironically, the human science is a little on the thin side. How does Nathan’s house run itself in a place completely isolated from the outside world? Who does the groceries (and where)? How does Nathan’s company operate without communicating with its owner? And (spoiler) why doesn’t the helicopter pilot have some major questions when Caleb returns as a woman five days later?
The characters are intelligent and original and it’s captivating to watch them try so hard to maintain their grasp on who is human, what is machine, and why that matters so much. It’s a shifty, talky film that wants you to watch carefully. Unfortunately (and I think I’m in the minority here) I found it a bit predictable. The questions and answers are fun, but I could see it all leading to an inevitably messy end. Because of the sit, talk, sit, re-examine formula, Ex Machina loses a bit of steam. I fidgeted my way through it just waiting for something exciting to happen. As a drama based on personality and thought, Ex Machina is an original concept that picks at the question “should we?” instead of “can we?” From a sociological point of view it is very interesting, but from an entertainment perspective, I found it a little dull. Ugh, I hate giving bad marks to original ideas that actually have an intelligent foundation. But from a purely entertainment context, Ex Machina, for me, was a 5/10. However, from a philosophical and sociological standpoint it’s more like an 8.
Ex Machina trailer.