Ex Machina

Ex Machina

(MA) Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Artificial intelligence has been a cinematic fascination since Metropolis (1927). This year at cinemas presents more futuristic awareness of robots and the moral implications of their creation.  Directed by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd), Ex Machina is the latest artificial-intelligence drama.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a week in a private mountain retreat with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive CEO and founder of technology giant Bluebook is the industry leading search engine and software firm. Upon arrival, though, Caleb quickly determines that he will have to participate in a bizarre, but groundbreaking study of human interaction with the world’s first truly interactive artificial intelligence. This robot has been created in the shape of a beautiful female, Ava (Alicia Vikander). An exciting proposition for young computer genius Caleb, but it quickly turns into a twisted psychological tale about the human condition.

Garland begins the journey in a pristine and rustic garden habitat, a modern day Eden. The perfect place for a creator to develop new life. Even though it is not an original setting, it does set up a stark contrast with the usual sterile trappings of a laboratory environment. Literally, Nathan brings his creation up from out of the earth and the depths of the cyber world.

The story of Ex Machina is a creation story, but it becomes a psychological exercise, for the characters – and the audience. With each question raised by Garland’s film, there are a multitude of underlying questions that need to be considered. The character development and script have a multilayered brilliance and allows Garland’s psychology study to open doors that separate it from other artificial intelligence films.

From Blade Runner to Chappie, the questions of ethics and humanity are central themes within this sort of sci-fi film. Ex Machina incorporates these themes, but is different because it is not merely a study of the created organisms. It also is an analysis of the creator. Nathan demonstrates the brilliance needed for this type of machinery development, but exposes the underlying problem with man being a creator. Humans are flawed, hence causing them to create an inherently flawed creation.

All of the psychological tension is well paced, and the actors deliver effective performances. Garland’s characters show that they all are measured and calculate each move, like a well-played chess match. At a certain point, though, it’s as if someone knocked over the game board and the conclusion ends abruptly and ineffectively. The originality of the script called for a more thoughtful conclusion, but it feels like Garland ran out of ideas, time or money. Ex Machina was captivating, innovative and opened the door for a multitude of topics but it then failed to deliver satisfactory answers in the end.

Even with the less-than-satisfactory ending, though, many of the underlying questions of human existence are still raised forcefully. Unlike the God of the Bible who is merciful, gracious and perfect in intention and purpose, Nathan is a brilliant but flawed creator. With wealth and power, he proves that he feels he is above all moral codes. Amid the unsubtle illusions to the garden of Eden, Ava and Caleb are forced to be the test subjects in a world created by Nathan.

Garland manages to expose the problem with created beings attempting to create other moral beings. But creation is merely one topic among many in Ex Machina. Intelligence, greed, power, morality, ethics, and sexuality are all touched on, and invite plenty of discussion after the film.

As a word of warning, language and nudity are issues and should be considered before watching. Looking passed these issues, this psychological test will provide a plethora of conversation possibilities for the audience – as its test subjects.

Ex Machina provided a refreshing change within this genre, its layers allowing for a deeper conversation on the topic of artificial intelligence. Garland’s sci-fi film is not intended to be a biblical metaphor, but the biblical illusions are unavoidable. The film is dark and border-line depressing, with a less-than-satisfactory ending. Yet, if you enjoy thought-provoking films, you will enjoy this psychological adventure.

What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

  1. What does it mean to be human? (Genesis 1:27, 2:5-25)
  2. As a creator, what was God’s purpose in creating humanity? (Isaiah 43:7, Colossians 1:16)
  3. Some of humanity ignore and potentially hate God. Is this a flaw in the human heart – or a flaw in God? (Genesis 3)

Russ Matthews

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