Ex Machina is a slick sci-fi with a small but very adept cast that explores the possibilities of artificial intelligence, human limitation, and robotic sexuality. Domhnall Gleeson is Caleb, a programmer working at Bluebook (the in-movie version of Google) who wins a weeklong stay at the home of reclusive CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Arriving at Nathan’s subterranean house and research facility at the centre of a gorgeous, secluded mountain range, Caleb finds out that he has been brought there to test out the tech genius’ secret project: an artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s interactions with Ava start off very friendly as both are very curious about the other, but when she begins to turn the test around and throw his questions back at him, becoming uncomfortably human-like, Caleb hesitates and questions his own role and motives in researching Ava. Her intelligence, wide-eyed gaze, and astounding self-awareness disarm the young coder, but what really throws him for a loop are her warnings about Nathan. Over the course of seven days, Caleb grows increasingly wary of his arrogant, eccentric, and alcoholic host, who seems to have ulterior motives for Caleb and Ava.
Presented in multiple visual metaphors, somewhat heavy-handedly but beautifully nonetheless, are many questions and ideas on consciousness, feeling, and experience. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, one of which hangs on Nathan’s wall, signifies the place between thinking and not thinking, that being feeling. Described to Ava by Caleb, the thought experiment known as Mary’s-black-and-white-room is and also physically represented by the underground room that holds Ava prisoner, keeping her from experiencing the world that she already knows so much about. Plato’s Cave, subtly alluded to in one beautiful shot of shadows stretched along a pale stone floor, is a broader version of Mary’s room that further explores the idea of Ava’s escape.
Aside from symbolic visuals, the atmospheric mountain views, endless mirrored surfaces, and artful camera framing make Nathan’s isolated residence a striking and otherworldly setting for this tightly wound sci-fi thriller. Pared down to three main characters in a closed system, the movie is focused and breathtaking.
Without giving too much of the ending away, Ex Machina presents a possible future of robots and humans that is very cold and very realistic yet somehow strangely beautiful in its apparent cruelty. The film’s non-romantic view of artificial intelligence as consciousness that can match and then exceed humanity’s own is threatening in that it points to a future without any need for humans—the singularity, so to speak. This theoretical point in the near future is something that becomes more and more important to think about as assorted technology has already taken over our bodies and lives. And depending on your view of what happens after the end of the film, it is either terrifying or full of unimaginable potential.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 lockdowns caused by mysterious power outages