Ex Machina (REVIEW)

written by Jacob Chimilar

From writer director Alex Garland comes the story of a man with a vision for the future that includes artificial intelligence living along side humans as a product that can help the entire world.

This movie starts off with Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a office lottery at Bluebook,  a ubiquitous search engine site in the near future. The prize is to go and meet with the  reclusive yet brilliant CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac). He is flown out to a remote location by helicopter through a forest of trees, mountains and waterfalls. He is dropped off by a river to which the helicopter pilot tells him to follow to his destination since it is the furthest he is authorized to go.

When he arrives he comes upon a small modern style shack. A voice asks him his name and to please step forward to the front door. His face is scanned and a key card is generated to get into the building.  Entering into the shack he hears classical music playing and wanders through the seemingly empty house looking for his employer. The house is sleek and modern with various swipe card controlled areas and rooms. He meanders about until  he finds Nathan working out outside. He introduces himself and admits to Caleb that he has a massive hangover and is trying to make up for it with exercise and mineral water. In this way it lowers Caleb's defenses and they are more casual in conversation. A way to be more friends than employer and employee as Nathan phrased it. 

Caleb learns that he is there to perform a type of Turing test on an AI Nathan has created. A Turing test being such that a person talks to a computer and if the person can not tell it's a computer and thinks it's human, passes said test. The variation Nathan sets forth is that the tester already knows it's a robot and shows them as a hybrid of extremely life like features and see through compartments. The true test is to find out despite knowing its an AI, does the AI possess a sense of conscientiousness with real emotional reactive responses.

The movie describes the idea with a Jackson Pollock painting. Pollock would go in with a blank mind and canvas and simply paint what he felt. No set idea on what to do, just what you feel in the moment. If a computer can do that it has true intelligence.

Each day Caleb asks the AI, named “Ava” (Alicia Vikander) a series of questions while Nathan watches through cameras set up throughout the house. This is set to repeat over the course of 7 days, allowing them to tinker with what they should test and how, in order to really put the AI through its paces. Ava proves to be quite the test taker, throwing Caleb off on more that one encounter with seemingly human responses.

This leads to a rather interesting mind game of a movie. One that tests everyone involved and not simply the AI. I won't give anything away but it is one of those movies where you never really know who is being tested or if the people playing the game are really who they claim to be. It asks some interesting questions that, like all great science fiction, should ask of its viewers.

How do people hold on to who they are morally and in terms of the dominant species when they hold such powerful and possibly harmful technology as artificial, borderline perfected, humanity.

Usually ringing true of great small budget Sci-fi movies ,close quarters and character interactions are the catalyst to the events that play out throughout the film and as such, require excellence in order to succeed in keeping the movie interesting. Thankfully this movie's set design, direction and acting are all top notch. The house is a character unto itself providing a ominous lab like surrounding that makes everything feel not quite right throughout the film. Alicia does an excellent job as Ava, the AI challenging what it means to be human. Her fragility and curiosity allowing you to really feel for a non living thing. Oscar Isaac equally shines as a drunk recluse genius with more than a hint of cabin fever obsessed with getting his AI to be perfect and to fool Caleb at every turn.  

If you have enjoyed movies like The Exam and Moon or episodes of Black Mirror you will most certainly enjoy this movie. It's clever, explores interesting themes, has, at times dark, humor sprinkled throughout and a solid script to back it up. It's not the most original idea, as the "can AI fool a human?" Plot has been seen several times in other movies like Blade runner and to a lesser extent AI. However it is in the execution and overall skill brought into the movie that keeps it from being redundant. In fact it does such a good job it has earned the right to be in the mix with those other much bigger movies despite going for the more character heavy thrills than sprawling “future city” action. Seeing as this movie will be hitting VOD soon, and for many of you that will be your first experience with the film, I'd suggest that If you are looking for something to sink your teeth into as a late night rental, its easy to recommend, as there is plenty to chew on in Ex Machina.