Artificial intelligence is a genuinely fascinating topic. If we were able to create a true AI, would this make us less special? Would they, and more importantly should they be considered every bit as human as you and me? Being self-aware and knowing how we tend to treat machines, would they kill us all? If we create true AI, what responsibilities do we have towards those creations? These are questions that are asked and answered to some degree in every AI movie, where it’s Blade Runner, Terminator, Short Circuit, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Chappie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina or any dozen other movies. How these movies go about tackling these questions is what determines the quality of the movie.
In Ex Machina, we have a deranged billionaire genius named Nathan played with clear delight by Oscar Isaac who has invited a hapless employee named Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) to see his newest creation, an artificial intelligence that has the basic appearance of a human (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s job is to determine if the AI called Ava is truly self-aware or simply pantomiming awareness.
What follows is a series of conversations and scenarios in which we learn significantly more about each of the characters. If you’re looking for a big blockbuster action movie, Ex Machina isn’t it. This movie is more philosophical than anything else.
Initially I thought it was a very well put together movie with some good acting that essentially said nothing about artificial intelligence that I didn’t already get from Blade Runner. As my girlfriend and I talked about the movie she pointed out that there was an entirely different aspect of the movie that I was missing.
As a movie about artificial intelligence very little original or new happens in Ex Machina. But by making the robot female and her inquisitors/captors male, Ex Machina becomes an interesting study on the objectification of women. In Ex Machina the female lead is literally an object. Her value as an individual is being judged by two men. If she fails, she’s likely to be destroyed and recycled like a broken computer. What must Ava say or do to continue to survive? What is she willing to do?
The fourth character in Ex Machina is Kyoko played by Sonoya Mizuno. She plays Nathan’s silent servant, again reinforcing a subservient female role. The two females in Ex Machina are introduced to us as servant and object. Nathan effectively owns them both. If Caleb or anyone else were to run away with Ava, would that be kidnapping or stealing? The best sci-fi makes us ask profound and uncomfortable questions. From that perspective, Ex Machina is an incredible success.
Ava is a machine that behaves like a female human. The disturbing thing is how difficult it is to figure out if Caleb and Nathan are treating her like a machine or like a woman because what the movie makes clear is that regardless of the answer, she is treated as less than a man.
This isn’t the first time that writer Alex Garland got me thinking about things. His screenplay for Never Let Me Go was phenomenal. Ex Machina marks the first time Garland has directed. Given the performances, the script, and the flawless special effects, I’m definitely interested in what he does next.
Ex Machina is a quiet masterpiece. It’s simultaneously seductive and challenging. It’s a movie that stays with you long after you’re done watching it.