4 out of 5 stars
"Isn't it strange, to create something that hates you?" - Ava
In the latest artificial intelligence drama from director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd), Bluebook is the industry leading search engine and software firm. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a week in a private mountain retreat with the reclusive CEO and founder, Nathan played by Oscar Isaac, of the technology giant. But on arrival, Caleb quickly determines that he will have to participate in a bizarre, but ground breaking study of human interaction with the world's first truly interactive artificial intelligence, which has been created in a beautiful female robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander). An exciting proposition for a young computer genius, but it quickly turns into a twisted psychological tale of the human condition.
This has been a busy year for artificial intelligence films and director Alex Garland has to differentiate Ex Machina from all the other robot films. 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 the stark contrast from the the usual sterile trappings of a laboratory environment with him literally bringing 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 for the audience. With each ensuing question, 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. Ex Machina incorporates these themes, but is different because it is not merely a study of the created organisms, but an analysis of the creator. Oscar Isaac's character, Nathan, captures 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 was well paced, the actors delivered effective performances. Garland's characters show that they all are measured and calculate each move, like a well played chess match. Then it was like someone knocked over the game board and the conclusion ended abruptly and ineffectively. The originality of the script calls for a more thoughtful conclusion, but it felt like Garland ran out of ideas, time or money and abruptly ended the film. Ex Machina was captivating, innovative and opened the door for a multitude of topics, but failed to deliver satisfactory answers in the end.
Even with the less than satisfactory ending, this film asks many of the underlying questions of human existence. The illusions to the garden of Eden were not subtle. Ava and Caleb were the test subjects in the world created by Nathan. Unlike the God of the Bible who is merciful, gracious and perfect in intention and purpose, Nathan is brilliant, but a flawed creator. With wealth and power, he proves that he feels he is above all moral codes. Not knowing Alex Garland's intentions with the script, he did manage to expose the problem with created beings attempting to create other moral beings. Sinful intentions produce a tainted creation. Creation is merely one topic amongst many in Ex Machina. Intelligence, greed, power, morality, ethics, and sexuality are all touched on and given room for discussion after the film. As a word of warning, language and nudity are issues and should be considered before watching. Looking pass these issues, this psychological test will provide a plethora of conversation possibilities for the audience as it's test subjects.
Leaving the cinema...
Ex Machina was a refreshing change within this genre, there were layers to this film that allow for a deeper conversation on the topic of artificial intelligence. It is not a biblical metaphor, but the biblical illusions are unavoidable. The film is dark and borderline depressing, with a less than satisfactory ending. Yet, if you enjoy thought provoking films, you will enjoy this psychological adventure.
If you would like to discuss more about what it is to be human, contact us at City Bible Forum.