The 2015 film, Ex Machina, could have done a lot worse in choosing their tagline. Reading this superimposed above the face of the film’s star, Alicia Verkander as “Eva”, her indifferent robotic expression standing on the edge of the uncanny valley, is about all you’ll need to see to decide whether or not this movie will spark your interest.
Ex Machina, helmed by first-timed director Alex Garland, is not a perfect movie, notably due to an ending that is unsatisfying and leaves you scratching your head for the wrong reason. It is a film of ideas and tries that tackles the philosophical questions behind the development of artificial intelligence. Though it is briefly addressed in the beginning, it thankfully, isn't another "the machines will rule and destroy us" film. More interestingly, when does something go from being a toaster to a fully “fleshed” out being with thoughts, feelings, and what might be considered some kind of digital soul?
We address the question through the eyes of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a smart and somewhat nervous techy guy called to the compound of the CEO of his company, located in the middle of beautiful nowhere, under the auspices of winning a week with the boss in a company-wide contest. We aren’t told exactly where it is but the Nordic vistas surrounding the ultra modern abode are stunning. Caleb flies out to meet Nathan, played excellently by the ascendant Oscar Isaac, and begins tests to see if Caleb can tell that Eva is a machine or not through the use of the Turing Test - a classic AI test that is explained adequately in the film. Geographic and architectural isolation, coupled with a somewhat abrasive personality, it’s difficult to tell who Ex Machina wants to feel more unfamiliar, the CEO or the robot. Tensions brew between Caleb and Nathan throughout the film and culminate into a surprising but logical ending. The discussions between the two of them, followed by the tests with Eva, offer a nice mix of addressing the philosophical dilemmas presented in the film. In particular, Eva is just sympathetic enough to forget she's a robot but cold enough in her portrayal to know somethings missing behind her eyes. In some ways, her Vikander's performance reminds me of the transformed Eevie from V for Vendetta, though Natalie Portman was on the verge of losing her soul rather than gaining one.
I hope I’m not coming off as nit-picking. I really, really enjoyed Ex Machina but I feel like it’ll only work for the right people. If you’re with a group willing to soak in some amazing set design, photography, and acting (Verkander really stands out), and can shrug off an abrupt ending, you’ll have a great time which will, almost inevitably be followed by some late-night and intense discussions.
- Isaac’s character regularly makes some pretty incredible leaps in logic when discussing his motives with Caleb.
- The movie touches on our surveillance culture but once the Big Questions really come out, it’s sort of passed along.
- Issac states there’s no point in making a robot without sexual features because it wouldn’t seem real but the blocky robots in Interstellar are some of my favorite depictions of AI in recent memory.
- Country of Origin: United Kingdom
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Released: 21 January 2015
- Run time: 108 Minutes
- Director: Alex Garland (United Kingdom)
- Written: Alex Garland (United Kingdom)
- Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (Ireland), Alicia Vikander (Sweden), Oscar Isaac (Guatemala)
This review was originally written in January of 2016 with minor updates since.