Ex Machina is a rare film that puts science in sci-fi, risking the attention of mainstream moviegoers. It’s all worth it though, as the film manages to be both an intriguing discussion on artificial intelligence and an engaging thriller.
The film explores ideas that most sci-fi films with robots wouldn’t dare touch. It tackles the boundaries between control and oppression as well as artificial intelligence and consciousness. When does programming end and self-directed learning begin?
Thankfully, the script isn’t full of jargon or pseudo-science babble. Nathan insists on simple answers from Caleb. In one scene he uses a painting to explain his thoughts, rather than some holographic representation of his innovation.
The production design adds a sophisticated yet ominous setting for discussion. The dimly lit house/research bunker has a minimalist interior that includes opaque glass doors, windowless rooms, and a security system that turns all the lights red.
Ex Machina uses camerawork and compositions for visual storytelling. The film score adds another layer of foreboding, thanks to Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (who is an instrumentalist for one of my favorite bands – Portishead).
The cast does a great job of sustaining the ambiguous atmosphere of the film through their characters.
Domhnall Gleeson adeptly plays a timid yet selfish nerd. Oscar Isaac is intriguing as a multi-millionaire dude bro playing God. The star of the movie is undeniably Alicia Vikander, who moves in a robotic yet graceful pace while her internal motors hum in low eerie tones. She imbues the self-aware Ava with enough humanity to identify with, while her gestures indicate something else.
While the movie does make an effort to tackle heady concepts, Ex Machina throws us a bunch of ideas that it doesn’t fully explore.
It takes a look at the objectification of women through Nathan, a guy with an Asian fetish who creates a female robot for science. But we barely know anything about the guy, except that he’s an isolated caveman who gets drunk every night.
There’s a lot of talk about sentience, singularity, and the unexpected algorithmic variations that blur the line between woman and machine but they lead to nowhere. Nathan gave her raw data, but how did that lead to curiosity and intellectual independence while in a cage?
In the end, the movie doesn’t answer its own questions but it does leave a lot for discussion. It explores the amoral side of intelligence and sentience and manufacturing these in a lab based on data from a flawed source, could only lead to a bitter end.
The monster is a reflection of Frankenstein and therein lies the problem.
Ex Machina is a modern Frankenstein tale and engaging sci-fi thriller, thanks to exceptional visual storytelling and great performances.