Sunday, March 29, 2020
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Gods and Their Machines

Courtesy of A24
Courtesy of A24

If something is cut, and it bleeds, is it alive? “Ex Machina” asks us exactly what it means to be human and confronts us with the nature of artificial intelligence and the implications of such an invention.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer, wins a lottery to spend a week in a remote cabin in a mountainous forest. After being flown out there, he meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac), his employer and the creator of the Bluebook search engine and is invited to join in an experiment. Nathan has built the world’s first Artificial Intelligence and wants Caleb to help him test its humanity.

Via a modified Turing Test, designed to test the AI’s ability to replicate human behavior, Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), a sleek and beautiful android, complete with a human face, a mesh frame and transparent limbs that reveal wires and illuminated hardware. As the week progresses, a power outage shuts down the experiment cameras, and allows Ava to warn Caleb that Nathan is not to be trusted. Caleb becomes trapped in a web of intrigue, confused on who to trust: Nathan, the creator and suspicious inventor, or Ava, the curious and desperate AI trapped in a room. It’s a debate of emotion versus rationality; the facility is a labyrinth, and the question remains — who is the Minotaur?

“Ex Machina” does an extremely good job at provoking endless questions throughout the entire film and keeps you in constant suspense. The pacing is methodical, manipulating time and the day and night cycle in the underground facility. The research facility’s setting is futuristic, with each room filled with a plethora of symbols and simple furniture: the simple bed, the TV in the wall, the Jackson Pollock painting, the solitary tree.

Every room is geometric and colored in black, white, grey and a disturbing red that takes hold during the power outages. The facility is controlled by an electronic lock and key system, operated by personalized key cards that keep Caleb in and out of certain rooms.

What makes the film brilliant is the combination of acting and dialogue. Each actor sells their character incredibly well: Isaac is an inventor with an alcoholic streak who hides himself away in the woods, Vikander is the AI whose small gestures and subtle glances make us believe she has human consciousness, and Gleeson is the programmer caught in the middle, unsure of who or what to believe.

The dialogue distracts us with humor, lends philosophical questions about the definition of life and fills the room with an underlying tension of deception. It’s a testament to the acting ability of the cast when the most intriguing conversations are done by body language alone.

What starts off as a scientific experiment quickly converts to a thriller of surveillance and technology, where the truth is a lie, and the lie, the truth. The AI is the mainstay of the film and Caleb remarks to Nathan that if he had truly created artificial intelligence, then he had become a god. Do gods maintain control, or fall to their creations?


RECOMMENDED: “Ex Machina” is the most original sci-fi thriller in years, and a deceptive film that will keep you guessing.