Film Review: Ex Machina
In 2015, Alex Garland released Ex Machina in his directorial debut. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, Symara A. Templeman, Alina Alminas, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani,and Claire Selby, the film grossed $36.9 million at the box office. Winner of the British Independent Film Awards for Best British Independent Film, Best Director of a British Independent Film, Best Screenplay, and Outstanding Achievement in Craft (Andrew Whitehurst – Visual Effects), the film was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects.
In the not too distant future, young programmer Caleb Smith is selected by billionaire Nathan Bateman to spend the week in his isolated compound to administer the Turing test and evaluate the human qualities of a female AI named Ava. However, Caleb soon finds out that nothing is truly as it appears to be.
Presenting a look at a plausible future based on continuing advances in artificial intelligence, Ex Machina is a terrifyingly great film. Really notable is how it portrays all of its characters, making it so none of them are as they really seem on the surface. For Nathan, it’s constantly difficult to figure out if the person that’s presenting himself is the real Nathan or a threateningly misogynistic predator that’s making himself out to be an antagonist towards Caleb simply in order to get a reaction out of the man. How much of a bad person he appears to be also has to do with what the audience believes about all the robots he’s created and whether or not they’re sentient. If they aren’t, then he’s just a boor who indulges in bizarre fantasies. But if they are, then he’s practically a serial killer. The film seems to end up resting on the interpretation that he’s just a contemptibly sad person who has been by himself for so long that he can’t see his monstrousness towards his creations.
Caleb is also the closest person the film has towards a protagonist as he’s the nicest character in the film and is initially presented as a good person. However, it’s unclear whether or not he wants to help Ava out of true empathy or if it’s because of his desire to live out sexual fantasies, as Nathan stated that he created Ava based on his search history. Interestingly, he’s also seen questioning his own humanity later on in the film after seeing all of Nathan’s robots. He sees and understands how lifelike they are, just what he’s been doing to them and then has a bit of a breakdown and is unable to determine whether or not he’s an actual person or a part of Nathan’s experimenting. The film perfectly resolves this by showing Caleb cutting himself and bleeding, which not only quells his fears, but is a well-done method of showing the audience that Caleb is just as human as he initially thought himself to be.
Then there’s Ava, who presents the question of whether or not the character is capable of human consciousness, emotion and moral judgments or is just a product of robotic hyper competence. On one hand, her betraying and leaving Caleb in a locked room to die could have been understandable due to the manipulative abuse she experienced at the hands of Nathan. But on the other hand, if she’s just a product of robotic hyper competence, then what she does might not even be her responsibility as she’s just a product of Nathan’s own doing. At the same time, her betrayal of Caleb could be to how she actually doesn’t care about him or her coming to hate him during their sessions together.
No matter what though, the film presents a terrifying ending. Caleb is trapped in a locked room at the bottom of Nathan’s facility while a lifelike AI who is accomplished in manipulation while having access to the entire internet has escaped into the human world. Ava is seen as having no value for human life over her own well-being, has no compunctions towards murder and can analyze how people feel based on their facial expressions. The film shows the dark side of what could happen by furthering artificial intelligence into something that is able to fly by and ace both the Turing test and the AI Box Experiment. The human race could be joined by sociopathic beings only out for themselves and simply cannot be stopped.
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