I don’t usually do science fiction and artificial intelligence, I feel like if you’ve seen one then you’ve almost definitely seen them all. Ex Machina was my hungover choice one painful Sunday afternoon, when I had finally managed to drag myself from the bed and to the foetal position on the sofa. It wasn’t a comforting experience.
Ex Machina (2015) is by all accounts a flawless psychological thriller with a touch of android. Alex Garland has managed to create yet another film in which the main identifier (zombies and robots) has little to do with the real plot. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, as Caleb, the plucky young programmer selected to take part in some pioneering weird science who finds himself over his head when he meets Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ava is no ordinary woman, because she isn’t a woman at all, she is an A.I created by super-genius-millionaire, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
Tasked with testing her responses, he must establish whether she truly has intelligence or is just issuing computer generated responses. Caleb has to navigate an emotional, scientific and moral minefield as he attempts to answer the two questions that plague every human mind:
- ‘What does it mean to be human?’
- ‘Do they like me, or are they just pretending to like me?’
The synthetic innocence of, Ava is offset by the intimidating masculinity of, Nathan. While Ava lightly treads the floor of her gilded high-tech cage, Nathan stomps around asserting his authority with key cards and ferocious work-outs. The complete juxtaposition of the characters around Caleb gives the film a very tense atmosphere, and you are immediately wondering where or when it will all go wrong.
Is the looming threat of an unstable Nathan what Caleb should worry about, or is Ava’s sickly-sweet nature slowly rotting his teeth to their core? Mixing the imminent threat that one day humans will create an artificial intelligence, capable of surpassing our achievements on this planet – with the already present and relatable social anxieties we experience in our day-to-day lives; Ex Machina leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. This feeling doesn’t stop until long after the film has run it’s harrowing and disconcerting course.
The ending is fairly predictable, but this film is not there necessarily to shock or command your full attention. It is there to make you feel uneasy. Uneasy about what is to come. Uneasy about what the underlying message represents. Uneasy that this is an entirely graspable future.
This isn’t hover boards and time machines. This is the sound of inevitability…