Caleb, a 26 year old coder at the world’s largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl.
My opinion on “Ex Machina”
“The challenge is not to act automatically. It’s to find an action that is not automatic. From painting, to breathing, to talking, to fucking. To falling in love… “
Something that really fascinates me, is whether we’ll ever be able to develop artificial intelligence. Each film about this subject gets my complete attention anyway and can count on my unconditional enthusiasm. I don’t know why and what attracts me the most in those movies. Is it just curiosity about the question if someone will ever succeed in developing such a machine? Will artificial intelligence cause the downfall of humanity as some prominent scientists profess (Hawking for instance claims this) ? Is such a self-discursive machine capable of showing real feelings and respond in a human way? And after seeing the packaging of this artificially intelligent creature, which looked enormously appetizing to me, the whole spectacle couldn’t go wrong anyway.
The list of movies with this topic is fairly extensive: from “Blade Runner” to “AI“, “I Robot” and “Short Circuit“, “Robocop” and recently “Chappie“. Even Pixar’s “Wall-E” fits in this list. Recent movies I liked the most were “The Machine” and of course “Her“. In this last movie it’s a sultry, seductive voice that represents the philosophy of AI. Unfortunately, most films contain excellent material for the prophets of doom in this world to say that AI isn’t exactly something we’re waiting for. Usually it goes horribly wrong and the creation turns against its human designer in order to get the balance of power tilted into its direction. I think this is the ultimate proof of AI but at the same time I don’t think it’s supposed to end that way. “Ex Machina” is no exception to this rule.
It all starts when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) receives an e-mail at the end of the week saying that he has won a sleepover at his boss’s residence. The moment he arrives on the immense estate and enters the modern underground house of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), he doesn’t know that he has been selected to submit the latest creation from Nathan to extensive testing. He’s introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), designed by the eccentric billionaire, and he must investigate during 5 days, using a Turing test, if Ava actually expresses and uses human feelings. But nothing is what is seems and at some point you’re really wondering who’s on the test bench!
Looking at this movie in its entirety, you won’t easily conclude that this is a low budget film and that they succeeded, despite the low budget, in creating an impressive environment and atmosphere. The ultra-modern property of Nathan comes with high-tech gadgets and looks tight , sober, cold and sterile with an ingenious verification system, design furniture scattered around and ambient lighting which is activated automatically or via voice control. There’s an internal video monitoring system and apparently a fortune was spent on the power supply, although occasionally the system is failing. And then there is the phenomenon Ava who eerily resembles a wandering robot, even though you realize it’s played by an actress, complete with arms with sophisticated wiring and a skull with partly a humanly face and a kind of electronic system. The way the brain looks like and works is something I’ve never seen so far in SF. It demonstrates an original approach to the effective development of AI.
The next issue are the performances. This is naturally limited to the three main characters: Nathan, Caleb and Ava. Oscar Isaac manages to portray Nathan in a very convincing way. A phenomenal intellectual character who has separated itself from civilization. This complete isolation has caused quite some bizarre features. From the outset, you have the feeling there’s something wrong and Nathan takes a menacing pose. His unpredictable moods, the alcohol consumption and the rather perverse sexual fantasies transform this genius into an unstable-looking person. The alleged prizewinner Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson who previously starred in “About time“, seems to have a rational mind, but eventually appears to be rather naive. The dialogues between him and Nathan are on a high philosophical level and include mostly the resulting gaps after creating artificial life. Caleb also has highly interesting conversations with Ava. And Ava impressed me the most. Alicia Vikander, a professional ballet dancer, succeeds in (with the use of CGI) looking like a real human-like cyborg. The astonished facial expression and prudent movements are some of the most sublime performances that makes her believable as Ava.
What remains is the storyline and plot used in this SF. Undeniably, it’s a psychological thriller in which everyone apparently has a hidden secret agenda, full of secrets and manipulative motives. And to be honest, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. However, the run up is magnificent, despite some considerations. At first it seems implausible to me that Nathan, despite his intellectual level, could develop something like Ava completely on his own. That means he’s also a master in other branches of natural science (chemistry, mechanics, electronics, biochemistry …). And I suppose he knows the laws of Isaac Asimov. Shouldn’t he consider these and take his precautions ? As in “Her” we witness a relationship between a human and a semi-human, except that Ava uses the highlighting of her female forms in her favor. And Ava uses these qualities just like women all over the world do to achieve their goal. I’m sure that’s true AI !