- Entertainment and Media
Life As Ava: Ex Machina
A secret experiment has its creator nervous, and a coder consultant curious in the science fiction drama Ex Machina. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), an IT billionaire and creator of a popular social network, has been working on an artificial intelligence experiment on his huge estate. He's let his people that he's conducting a contest for them. The winner will get the opportunity they all want - a chance to work with the reclusive Nathan. That winner is Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a coder at his big city office. Caleb gets a helicopter escort there, and a photo ID that allows him access to Nathan's place. Nathan sets some ground rules, and insists Caleb follow them. Nathan also lets Caleb know that his pass works only in certain places on his compound.
Caleb's mission over the course of one week is to speak and interact in sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), whom Nathan has created to simulate a human being. Nathan is conducting a Turing test to see if his guest can sense a connection that passes for human with her. Parts of Ava look human, while others clearly show manmade work. After each session, Nathan asks Caleb questions about the session events, which Nathan oversees. Strange events, though, have been happening at the compound that Caleb almost immediately notices. The site experiences brief, but numerous, power outages. He also notices Nathan being mean to Ava as well as to his servant, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). These incidents, as well as Ava's words. convince Caleb to rewrite some code and to devise an escape plan.
Ex Machina marks the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay. It's a smart and tense piece about technological advances. From the view of those living in 2015, someone will, at some point in the future, a Nathan will have the know-how to create a machine like Ava and successfully pass it off as human. That reality troubles both men, especially Nathan. Yet, they want to carry this project to this new level, and want to control it. The week not only adds to the intelligence of the men, but to Ava as well.
Garland takes a hard look at man's efforts to fine-tune society and to disturb the undisturbed, as was the case with his novel The Beach, which Danny Boyle made into a movie, or his screenplay adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel Never Let Me Go, which was directed by Mark Romanek. They are hard and dark looks at such pursuits. In Ex Machina, Caleb enters a place so prisitne, but encounters a pane of cracked glass very early in his stay. Some of the aspects of Nathan's life stretch credibility, but the film works in an overall sense show the wonder and danger that will come with artificial intelligence.
The three main performances show characters with a desire to prove themselves. As the already wealthy Nathan, Isaac shows a man who is smart and tough as well. He's a Dr. Frankenstein of the computer age, who knows what Ava could do without restriction. Nathan tends to be careful and calculated with every move at his estate as a result. He should be living a life of luxury, but instead he lives in a beautiful compound. Gleeson is the novice to Nathan's world, reveling in the rare honor of working with his boss, and hoping he will make the most of the opportunity. He also has his concerns, as he explains to Nathan with ominous words.Vikander is filled with curiosity and a dispassionate look as Ava. The world is new to her, and so are its lessons. She knows power, as well as beauty. Spending time with Caleb and Nathan shows she has much more to learn about the abilities she has been given.
None of us may live to see a creation like Ava, but I'm sure someone somewhere has plans to make that vision a reality. The danger with releasing an Ava to the world without sufficient learning is the goal Nathan and Caleb wish to avoid. In Ex Machina, three characters struggle for control in a lab-like environment. The people know this breakthrough will begin another age of human existence. Existence will remain essential for technology to continue to evolve.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Ex Machina 3.5 stars. The opportunity of a lifetime.