Ex Machina is an eerie, engrossing film that raises pertinent philosophical questions about consciousness and artificial intelligence. Masterfully crafted suspense quickens the pulse, but senseless plot twists and clichéd elements leave room for improvement.
Caleb is a young programmer working for Bluebook, a software company that bears a striking resemblance to Google. After winning a contest, he gets to spend a week with Bluebook’s reclusive CEO, Nathan. After arriving at Nathan’s compound isolated in the mountains, Caleb learns that there is more to his vacation than he anticipated. The contest was used to surreptitiously determine who would participate in a top-secret experiment: performing the Turing test on an invention of Nathan’s.
The Turing test is used to distinguish the intelligence of a computer through an interview. If the computer is able to convince the interviewer that it is a human, then the machine passes.
In spite of the test’s guidelines, Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava, an extremely intelligent and beautiful humanoid robot. Nathan wants Caleb to know that she’s a robot and see if he can be convinced that she has real intellect and consciousness. He believes that this will more conclusively determine whether or not she has true emotional intelligence.
As the movie progresses, Ava’s intelligence and mindfulness become apparent. However, after growing close with Ava and speaking to her daily, Caleb begins to suspect Nathan’s motives. A darker, more manipulative side begins to show and Ava’s role gradually changes from invention to prisoner.
Despite having a promising premise and containing strong cinematic elements, Ex Machina came up notably short in some areas.
Unfortunately, while the CGI effects were seamless and the slow, methodic plot was suspenseful, this film didn’t break any real ground in the sci-fi genre. There was a definitive Blade Runner feel to the movie, although unlike Blade Runner, Ex Machina is far from ahead of its time. The AI elements are played out, and the question of machine consciousness feels oddly familiar, maybe because it’s been featured in every sci-fi movie of this type since Blade Runner.
What Ex Machina did do exceedingly well was develop a unique foreboding fear that slowly intensified throughout the movie. Even with almost no violent or graphic images, Ex Machina kept the audience entranced and filled with trepidation. The inorganic, artificial world of Nathan’s home and research center juxtaposed with the fertile, verdant landscape creates a sense that there is something unnatural about Nathan’s environment and mind. This was further exaggerated by the use of light to bathe the characters in garish artificial illumination or sinister red emergency light. An ominous sense of discomfort and suspense sets in on the viewers very early in the film.
Ex Machina is undoubtedly an entertaining and thought-provoking movie. Certain creative elements set it apart from any other film in theaters right now, and it has a broader appeal than most sci-fi movies of its sort.
Director Alex Garland successfully chooses to lean on philosophical questions more than special effects, and his use of light and the character’s environment to depict inner turmoil provides visually pleasing compositions. The relationship between organic and inorganic is played upon and the border between them becomes blurred.
In sum, Ex Machina exceeded my moderate expectations for a suspenseful Sci-Fi film. However, its failure to ask questions that haven’t already been introduced in the genre make for an overly predictable and unsatisfying movie in terms of new ideas.