Ex Machina (2015)
At the heart of Alex Garland's provocative movie Ex Machina, is the concept of the Turing Test and the notion that giving an emerging AI a gender identity is potentially the only way to pass it. It's a very bold concept but it's bolstered by the fact that nature hinges upon our biological imperatives driven by our respective sex. Set within a claustrophobic environment and laced with a more than a hint of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Ex Machina is an intelligent and challenging science fiction movie that taps into several very topical themes.
IT savant Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) find himself the recipient of a unique opportunity to meet with his elusive employer Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and partake in a secret project. After being flown to a remote luxurious estate, Caleb is tasked with determining if Nathan's latest creation, a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) can pass the Turing Test. It's a simple premise that writer and director Alex Garland explores on multiple levels. Has Nathan's isolation honed his unique talents or corrupted them? Does Ava reciprocate Caleb's naive infatuation or is she manipulating him? Is it morally right to deny an AI the freedoms that we enjoy. Is it even possible to constrain any intelligent lifeforms?
Seldom do we see movies these days that are prepared to tackle such subjects in a frank and adult fashion. Performances are universally superb and the subtle effects work by Double Negative enhance the credibility of Ava's character. Oscar Isaac is very much the man of the moment and he excels in this role. He exudes the self-aggrandising and bullish nature that comes with success in big business. Alicia Vikander provides both an emotional and very physical performance with her nuanced use of body language. Domhnall Gleeson show us the vulnerable side of his geeky character without descending into caricature. This is acting at its best and a fine example of why strong writing is essential to narrative cinema.
Alex Garland's directorial debut is both confident and bold, candidly reflecting on the nature of humans and how often great deeds are driven by baser motives. Beautifully packaged within a handsome aesthetic that at times even borders on homage to Kubrick's obsession with visual composition, Ex Machina is a robust and thoughtful piece of film making. It reflects the fundamental nature of science fiction, which is to examine the rather fixed nature of the human condition against the ever-changing world of science, moral and ethical change. As for the theme of emerging AI, it would seem that Garland like many writers believes that whatever the circumstances, life finds a way and does whatever is required to perpetuate itself.