Question: if an artificial intelligence evolved a consciousness and became self-aware, how would we know? Would we be able to differentiate between imitation and authenticity? Between sincere emotional responsiveness and replication? Is an artificial intelligence sentient when it learns how to manipulate for personal gain or when it feels fear, anger, and love? These are all queries explored in Ex Machina.
I’m glad Hollywood is taking notice of these smaller, story-driven films. Sure, losing oneself in a big-budget spectacle is always a good time. However, it’s films like Ex Machina which challenge us with interesting ideas; ideas that follow us long after the screen has faded to black.
Writer and director Alex Garland seems to have really thought this film out, not just in the weight and depth of ideas discussed in his film, but also in terms of symbolism. In one scene, the single “Enola Gay” by the 80s British band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is playing; a song about the Boeing B-29 bomber which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The creation and use of the atomic bomb ushered in a new age for humanity; a similar progression which the advent of artificial intelligence will invariably follow. The juxtaposition of technological advancement against the backdrop of nature was also a nice touch (Oscar Isaac’s Nathan has his laboratory setup deep within the mountains); a display of humanity’s newfound role as God-like creator, intermingling that which we cannot control with our continued effort to become masters over our earthly dominion.
The three central cast members are phenomenal. Domhnall Gleeson is convincing and relatable as the young and naive programmer tasked with the interaction and beta testing of Ava. Oscar Isaac is fantastic in the role of the genius recluse who creates Ava; a sort of 21st century Victor Frankenstein willing to take his experiment as far as it needs go in order to perfect his breakthrough. But it’s Alicia Vikander – mesmerizing as the newborn A.I. – who unequivocally steals the show. A trapped rat in a cage, you completely empathize with her plight and fear of what may come should she not prove herself to Issac’s Nathan.
Ex Machina is one of those stories that’ll leave you with great fodder ripe for long and interesting discussions about the future of humanity and the technology it wields; technology which will either elevate our species to a higher and more evolved plane of existence – or be our undoing.