Many films have been made about the perils of man trying to play God, but Ex Machina actually delivers on provoking thought and discussion from it’s audience. In a time when science fiction thrillers are the proverbial dime a dozen but most don’t do more than provide mild entertainment for 80+ minutes, Ex Machina is a breath of fresh air, a piece of science fiction so uncannily real and creepy it is likely to get under your skin and stay there.
There’s a concept called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which suggest A.I. will actually become more and not less unsettling if they are designed and programmed to closely resemble human beings. But in a world where advanced A.I. is possible, who should you fear more; the robots or their hubristic creators? Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bit of a nerd and an all-around good guy who happens to be extremely intelligent. When the organization he works for, a internet search engine company called Blue Book, holds a drawing to choose a lucky employee to get the meet the head honcho and brains behind the operation, Caleb can hardly believe his good fortune.
Being a genius doesn’t necessarily come equipped with an abundance of kindness or humility, that’s never been truer than it is for Blue Book’s former kid prodigy, Nathan (Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is an narcissist, an alcoholic, and a man who reaches a mentally ill level of creepy and ratchets up that creepiness a notch every minute you’re in the room with him. He is, however, a mastermind at coding, hacking, and, as it turns out, building shapely female robots. When Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander,) a beautiful cyborg with a sweet and innocent manner, it’s fascination at first sight. Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test on Ava to discover if she’s equal to a human being in her level of empathy and cognitive responses, but what happens to Ava if she fails?
If you like smart science fiction that actually incorporates science and philosophy in it’s story and challenges you to think about the ideas it’s presenting, this movie is for you. After being introduced to three compelling characters with their own individual (and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous) motivations and needs, we are forced to ask the question; which of these people is innocent? Who has the most humanity? Who is telling the truth? Who is full of shit? If Ava is not as innocent as she initially appears, does that make her less human or all too human? Which is a scarier concept?
Where does ownership end and violation begin in Nathan’s abuse of his robots? They’re his creations, but does that mean they should have to suffer at his hands? You give life to something, but then you mistreat it, and thus abuse your power. It’s a story as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but writer/director Alex Garland breathes new life into the concept, basing it off an idea he had as a boy. It’s easy to think of this as the anti-Chappie (and I was one of the few that actually liked Chappie!) because while that film handles the idea of a scientist creating artificial intelligence and the ensuing complications with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Ex Machina is silk-smooth and insinuating when it comes to it’s themes.
The plot points are never applied with too much force, and it should come as no surprise to you that all the actors are extraordinary in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography when the movie dares to venture outside of Nathan’s expansive pad juxtaposes the mechanical, the manufactured, and the ‘fake’ with staggering scenic beauty. Can one be as real as the other? Ex Machina will grab your attention until the last scene.