I read an interview with Alex Garland, writer and director of Ex Machina, who said that when he started on the project, there hadn’t been any movies about artificial intelligence since Steve Spielberg’s A.I. Then, as his movie was being made, a rush of them surfaced: Chappie, Big Hero Six, Her, Transcendence, and Automata. Some of these are about how robots are our friends, but most, as they have since the notion was invented with books like I, Robot, have been a fear of A.I. It all goes back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein–don’t play God, or it will bite you in the ass.
That’s the kind of movie Ex Machina is, but it isn’t clear from the beginning. A young coder (Domnhall Gleeson) is plucked from his job at a large Internet search company and whisked to the deep woods, where the owner of the company (Oscar Isaac), a peculiar genius who likes vodka, Jackson Pollock, and working out with a punching bag, awaits him. Gleeson has won a lottery to spend a week with the great man, but not just to pal around and shoot pool. Isaac wants Gleeson to test his latest robot with the Turing test.
The Turing test is when a person determines whether he is speaking with another person or artificial intelligence. If he can’t tell the difference, then the test is passed. So he meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot with a pretty face but visible circuitry. This confused me–usually when one hears of the Turing test it’s through anonymous electronic messages. It’s not much of a test when the tester can clearly see the subject is made of wires.
Anyway, Gleeson gains a crush on Vikander, and I won’t spill any more. There’s an “ah-hah” moment that anyone with half a brain will see coming, but as for the very end, it surprised me and was immensely satisfying. I was pretty much absorbed through the whole thing. Most of the movie is only the three characters, and there’s lots of power plays going on.
This is pretty heady stuff, and requires some thoughtful attention, which I appreciated. It’s the kind of movie you can argue with your friends for hours about. The motives of the characters, including Ava, are intriguing and can’t easily be discerned.
The acting is all first-rate, though Vikander, by definition, has to be pretty one-note, but she is while also showing shades of intelligence. Gleeson has to play a guy who is increasingly depicted as a sad sack, and his shoulders seem to slump as the film goes on. It’s Isaac, though, who steals the show. I have no idea what Sergei Brin or his ilk do in their spare time, but I can easily imagine it’s like what Isaac is up to, where electronic wizardry surrounds him. He’s a guy who you can never quite trust, and is too smart for his own good. It’s hard to believe this is the same actor who was in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year. He’s the real deal.
My grade for Ex Machina: A-.