Ex Machina - A Cinephile Turing Test
Alex Garland has decades of experience narrating stories with images. What is fresh is that he now helms the movie. It is an excellent debut at directing.
We know Garland from the “Generation-X cynicism” of The Beach and the social cannibalism of 28 days later. The development of movies such as 28 days later was important for the production value and popular success of the walking dead phenomenon.
The video game Enslaved was an interactive reinterpretation of a Chinese literature classic. He has successfully dealt with different genres and tones. It shows in his latest work. Ex Machina seems directed by a self-confident and talented veteran.
Billionaire Genius Meets Young Programmer
A young programmer named Caleb Smith, Domhnall Gleeson, receives, as a prize, the chance to meet his boss Nathan Bateman, Oscar Isaac. Nathan is the billionaire creator of Bluebook, a global Google-ish company.
Nathan is a universally acclaimed genius. He is a Mozart-like prodigy coder, who lives like a hermit in a remote hyper-technological mansion. Caleb is visibly excited about the trip.
After a long helicopter ride and a little hike, Caleb arrives at the modernist remote hideout. After a brief and awkward introduction, Nathan immediately explains the main reason behind Caleb’s trip.
A.I. Turing Test
Nathan has created an android with an innovative artificial intelligence. He wants Caleb to administer a Turing Test. The test named after legendary cryptanalyst Alan Turing. The test is a success when an artificial intelligence manages to convince the tester that it’s human. Or maybe we could say the A.I. is very strong and in intelligence at least matches our own.
Normally a double blind is necessary. The tester should not know he is testing an AI or human. Doing tests remotely is an option. An AI in a Turing Test does not have to have an android body. Here in the movie it has of course. Caleb has a first encounter with Ava, Alicia Vikander. Ava has a perfectly made human face, but still looks clearly like an android.
Consciousness or not?
Caleb immediately points out the unfair nature of the test. He started it already knowing that the subject is artificial. Nathan responds that Ava is beyond a conventional Turing test. The important thing now is that Caleb, knowing that Ava is a robot, determines if it has a consciousness.
At this point, we’re already hooked. At the same time, Garland is making his own version of the Turing test with us, the audience. We know that Ava is being played by a human actress. Determining Ava’s intentions is an essential part of the interaction needed to fully enjoy this experience.
Ex Machine Production and Visuals
Unlike the Spielberg-Joel Osment duo in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Garland does not manipulate us with a convenient inconsistent performance. Here we have a great actress visibly altered with top-notch post-production to look like an android. This earned Ex Machina the 2015 Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
Garland expands the test and the distrust to the other characters, to the point of creating a claustrophobic wonderful thriller.
Casting and Performances
The casting is perfect. Oscar Isaac who, with the exception of Star Wars: The Force Awaken’s Poe Dameron, has a rap sheet full of unstable and unreliable characters, is the perfect choice for Nathan.
Domhnall Gleeson offers a more shy and modest performance, which works perfectly for the plot’s dynamic. Alicia Vikander delivers a great performance worthy of the positive adjectives. She is responsible for making this cinephile Turing Test work.
What's Your Rating For Ex Machina?
Alex Garland on A.I.
Garland has created what could be the last great sci-fi film about artificial intelligence before destiny reaches us. Because, as Garland sentenced:
“If somebody like Google or Apple announced tomorrow that they had made Ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn’t be that surprised”.
If that would happen tomorrow, would we be ready?
Title: Ex Machina
Release Year: 2015
Director(s): Alex Garland
Writer(s): Alex Garland
Actors: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, a.o.