Ex Machina has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic: namely what makes humans human. The increasingly omnipresent Oscar Isaac plays billionaire Nathan Bates, genius creator of'Google' - my mistake - 'BlueBook', the world's "leading search engine". Bates lives in the middle of the American wilderness (in reality, a very picturesque Norway) and in a property that actually exists (BlueBook the Juvet Hotel). He is leading a one-man research project into the development of an Artificial Intelligence. Leading neatly on from the recent Cumbur-busting "The Imitation Game" the eccentric and erratic Nathan needs to share his work with someone external in order to perform'The Turing Test' - the test to determine if a machine can genuinely pass itself off as human to another human.
The new British sci-fi film "Ex Machina," rolling into U.S. theaters over the next few weeks, is the kind of movie that discerning science fiction fans will want to seek out. Directed by Alex Garland (screenwriter of Sunshine and 28 Days Later), "Ex Machina" is a modern-day riff on the Frankenstein story, with high-tech labs, mad scientists and troublesome artificial intelligence (A.I.). It's got some thrilling twists, but "Ex Machina" is more about ideas than action, and it takes its science seriously. The setup: Computer coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is summoned to the remote research lab of his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive genius founder of a ginormous tech company that doesn't rhyme with Google, but may as well. There, Caleb meets Ava -- a super-advanced A.I. housed in a super-advanced robotic body, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander.
There are a couple routes screenwriters have for delivering information to their audience. There's exposition -- where plot or character is explained through dialogue -- then there are visual or aural descriptions meant to convey emotion. Basically it all boils down to telling or showing, but however its done, every line of dialogue, every scene, and every emotion in a film should have one express purpose: to advance the story. How a screenwriter chooses to reveal the information of their characters and plot has a direct relation to how we experience the tone and atmosphere of a film, and as such, that information (and our emotions about said information) are ripe for manipulation. Take Alex Garland's script for Ex Machina, which he also directed.
With Ex Machina, the directorial debut of 28 Days Later and Sunshine writer Alex Garland, we can finally put the Turing test to rest. You've likely heard of it -- developed by legendary computer scientist Alan Turing (recently featured in The Imitation Game), it's a test meant to prove artificial intelligence in machines. But, given just how easy it is to trick, as well as the existence of more rigorous alternatives for proving consciousness, passing a test developed in the '50s isn't much of a feat to AI researchers today. Ex Machina isn't the first film to expose the limits of the Turing test, but it's by far one of the most successful. And, like the films 2001 and Primer, it's a work of science fiction that might end up giving you a case of philosophical whiplash.
"If you've created a conscious machine," says Caleb to Nathan toward the beginning of Ex Machina, when Caleb discovers Nathan is on the verge of creating an artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human intelligence, "it's not the history of man. Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland, is an intriguing film about the wonders and dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). Garland's tale is stylishly told, beautifully photographed, and aided by a clever script that subverts standard cinematic clichés. It is also suffused with religious themes and theological motifs--unsurprisingly, because ever since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the prospect of human beings creating human-like beings of their own has almost invariably raised the issue of "playing God." In Ex Machina, Caleb is a computer coder brought to Nathan's secret research facility to apply the Turing Test to Nathan's AI--that is, to test whether a human interacting with the robot would be able to tell that the AI is non-human.