Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” is a brilliant often mesmerizing amalgam of “2001” and “Frankenstein” in where man has once again reached the ability to create life, albeit artificial. Garland chronicles the ever enduring battle of artificial intelligence and human intellect and how the lines can sometimes be blurred by the geniuses seeking to create actual life. “Ex Machina” is a consistently enigmatic and stunning science fiction tale of humanity, and the god complex that entrenches us in a deep and very bleak mystery as well as introducing us to a slew of characters, all of whom may not particularly be devious at first glance.
Oscar Isaac is award worthy as hermitous billionaire and technology guru Nathan Bateman who enlists a lottery to one lucky programmer to visit his compound for a week. Caleb Smith happens to be the lucky programmer for his company who is given a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit his island and compound that consists of state of the art security. He’s given a glance in to the mind of the often mysterious Nathan Bateman, who seems self destructive at first glance, but is much savvier than Caleb realizes. This becomes especially true when he meets Nathan’s latest creation, a humanoid robot named Ava. Ava has immense intellect and keen awareness of her surroundings, and it’s up to Caleb to enlist the Turing Test. Should Ava pass the Turing test, Nathan garners his own ideas that remain cryptic to Caleb.
As Caleb is thrust in to a battle of words, ideas, and thoughts with Ava, he realizes that Ava not only garners her own mind, but is something of a sentient being who warns that Nathan really isn’t all that he seems. “Ex Machina” is actually one of the few films I can safely say doesn’t really have an antagonist, so much as it has a bunch of characters hovering around and eventually reaching a point where their life is based on self preservation rather than evil. If you know your creator and were created for a specific purpose, are you any more or any less a conscious being? And can you ever seek independence? Would independent thought be a demonstration of free will or just a pre-coded aspect of our biology?
Garland understands the dynamics of the science fiction genre, drawing out morally ambiguous characters that are never black and white constructs of good and evil. Even when we know our characters, we never really can identify if they’re moral or amoral beings. What’s more is that we can never be sure if their decisions are products of free will or manipulation. Garland enlists the use of color to perfectly convey the ideas of urgency and calm within the compound of Nathan Bateman’s, which becomes something of a character on to itself. Garland is even crafty in tinkering with the sub-conscious cues he sets forth for audience, enlisting various bold colors to indicate who among these characters we should trust and who we should be wary of.
Much like Caleb and Ava’s interaction, “Ex Machina” is something of a conscious test for Garland’s audience, as the film itself performs as an event that manipulates our perceptions of good, evil, lust, emotion, and perception. Alicia Vikander is awe inspiring as the robotic Ava, whose body is only partially formed, but begins to transcend her inherent mechanic composition the further Caleb probes her artificial consciousness to discover if she’s a unique being of her own choice. Garland’s film is at all fronts mesmerizing and haunting, exploring the ever fascinating dichotomy of man and machine, and how advancing technology can dangerously mimic creating life. It isn’t so much a word of caution, as it is a tale of man’s successful creation of the ultimate machine, and how it can have severe repercussions. Garland presents another truly provocative masterpiece of science fiction, and one that stuck with me for days.