Should mankind be allowed the power of creating sentient robots? What is the reality of consciousness? What is the true difference between computers and humans? What is the nature of true knowledge? Have we not just learnt, through operant conditioning, everything we do or will ever do, and if so arent we just computers analysing actions and consequence? Does it really matter if reality exists or whether reality is just a projection of my own mind? Is there any practical difference between the two? Is sexuality truly necessary?
These are just a few of the questions that come to mind while watching this movie, some are brought up explicitly others not so much. Ex Machina is the low budget, independent, Sci-Fi thriller written and directed by the incredible Alex Garland. Despite Garland having written many novels and screenplays, Ex Machina marks his directorial début. In a tale of deception, connection and existential questions we follow the events that unfold when Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee of the Google-esque company BlueBook, wins a competition to spend a week with the mysterious, and incredibly brilliant, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) founder and CEO of BlueBook. When Caleb arrives at Nathan's remote bachelor pad/research lab he learns that the real prize is to act as the human component in a Turing Test. A test designed to determine whether or a not a machine's intelligence is equivalent to that of a human. Essentially it tests whether or not a machine can pass as being human. The test subject is the incredibly advanced android, Ava (Alicia Vikander). It is Ava who acts as the catalyst for the human and intellectual exploration of the mind and the film is structured around several sessions of observations with her. As previously stated the movie is deeply inquisitive and it raises many questions about the nature of consciousness and ethical behaviour but still manages to inject humour into this fairly heavy topic and it's Nathan that acts as the main catalyst for this. Sometimes we laugh at his obnoxiousness, other times we laugh at his witticism. In some cases Nathan is the personification of the movie, both are extremely clever and almost arrogant in nature but neither pretend to be the bastion of truth, neither pretend to have any of the answers and both are unapologetic in the nature of their true existence. Caleb embodies us all; kind, confused and a little naive.
Despite raising many questions, Alex Garland doesn't attempt to answer, or even pass comment on, any of them. Initially I saw this as a huge drawback but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was an essential part of the viewing process. By not raising them on screen, the viewer can get lost in their own questions and each viewer will have a different experience. The only time a question of this sort is brought up on screen is when Caleb asks Nathan why he created Ava, to which we hear a cold and calculated response on the idea of eventuality. The world has a set course and we are just the vehicles to allow that to happen. The character did not attempt to impose emotional or ethical view points onto Caleb and neither does Ex Machina with their viewers. This film was a film created out of eventuality. Eventually questions surrounding true artificial intelligence must be asked and it feels like this was the purpose of this film. Garland does a fantastic job of stepping back and allowing viewers to ask their own questions and to formulate their own answers. Ex Machina won't ask the questions for us and it certainly won't answer any. It is down to us, as the viewer, as a member of society, as a sentient emotional, ethical, natural creation to be both the judge and the executioner.
Emotionally this film, is good but lacking real heavy hitting impact at crucial points. In places the scenes cut away a second too soon, in others the character's emotions aren't given the full respect they deserve. The scenarios played out would raise huge emotional questions for the characters but these are never explored to the depths of their true nature, we are given mere morsels of the emotional upheaval loaf that this film could be. Filmed on location in Norway and at Pinewood studios in the UK Ex Machina is visual stunning. With early shots of vast landscapes and an incredible set design the viewer is transported to the realist realm of a billionaire computer scientist/CEO. With the vast majority of the film set in the Nathan's underground lab, the viewer can feel suitably claustrophobic, mimicking Ava's physical experience and arguably Caleb's emotional experience. The film is visually slick and engaging. Not only are the visuals slick and engaging but so is the soundtrack and score. Combining original tracks with classics from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Oliver Cheatham the music is used to good effect keeping the viewer hooked and providing a fantastic scene in which Oscar Isaac busts a move!
Despite some of these postive qualities Ex Machina really is a film reliant on the viewer to raise questions. If you don't think about the implications of the events on screen, Ex Machina will simply be a beautifully shot rom-com that misses the mark emotionally. However, thinking facilities in tact and ready to fire, this movie is a fantastic exploration into the ethical, and philosophical, conundrums of artificial intelligence. Watching this movie with the intention of shutting off your mind is like trying to appreciate a gourmet dining experience without of your sense of smell. Without your sense of smell how can you expect to truly appreciate the experience?
This film is definitely worth experiencing, just make sure you turn up with all your senses.
Release date: January 21, 2015 (United Kingdom)
Director: Alex Garland
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno and Oscar Isaac