Dir.: Alex Garland.
This film pushes at the boundaries of the discourse on artificial intelligence at least in terms of what is happening in the medium of cinema, which rarely gets this intelligent. Undoubtedly companies are working very hard to design technologies that are more and more “humanistic” but they end up becoming ultra intrusive like Google glass. What drives us humans to make machines with which we want to control other people with but imagine that we ourselves will be spared as its creators? Intelligence is a quality which we have abrogated to ourselves and we constantly think we know best, for ourselves and for the planet.
In Ex Machina, Nathan(Oscar Issac) who runs the worlds most overwhelmingly ubiquitous search engine (think Google), has created what he believes is credible artificial intelligence. He is possibly the richest man in the world, a pure genius who now wants to be God.He even lets his guard down and admits as much in one scene. But Nathan needs somebody very specific to test his creation and he finds Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a rigged contest to spend time with his CEO, a privilege apparently worth dying for.When Caleb arrives in a chopper at the Nathans ultra modern home which is more of a covert research facility that the CIA would have been proud of, he finds that this is far from a “bond with the big boss” gig and more of an opportunity to peek into the future. Caleb meets Ava, a humanoid robot played with an eerie charm by Alicia Vikander.
A cat and mouse game ensues between the three of them but Alex Garland does well to stick to the debate on AI as he advances the plot on somewhat predictable lines.But this predictability is what I only though of in hindsight as the film sucks you into its world of über cool hardware and software and superlative dialouge.The most interesting revelation occurs when Nathan tells Caleb how he taught the lab grown brain of Ava to think. His answer is so highly plausible that it makes one gasp in the dark.
To me the ultimate test of intelligence is the ability to appreciate art since it is only us human beings who indulge in this activity of creating and consuming art. When I noticed a Jackson Pollock painting in the film early on, I was intrigued and indeed the act of the creation of Jackson Pollack called “automatic art” becomes another riveting conversation in the film about.Visually the film has superb compositions, polished camerawork, impeccable art design and an eerie hypnotic quality enhanced by a great background score.
Good films make us think of other great films and while watching Ex Machina I was of course reminded of 2001 A Space Odyssey and scene where HAL 9000 appears to think.But with its romantic and somewhat erotic set up Ex-Machina reminded me most of Her by Spike Jonze. While that film imagines a man falling in love with the operating system of his phone here we go the whole hog with a robot.I find the fact that a human actor plays these robots assisted by cutting edge special effects most interesting.That we still need a human face to convince us rather than the fanciest piece of animation available to man is a telling comment on how far away we may be from artificial intelligence.But the idea is tantalising and so is the film.Ex Machina has the makings of a cult classic!
#Ex Machina was not released in Singapore along with its US release but now there is a chance to catch it on the big screen at The Projector located at Golden Mile Tower on Beach, Singapore’s cutting edge art house film venue.