The science fiction genre can be divided into two halfs. First is the futuristic adventures full of lasers and aliens; fun popcorn fare such as “Star Wars” or “Independence Day.” The other side of this coin is the darker, more cerebral tales. Stories that use futuristic technology or scenarios to examine concepts that have haunted us since the beginning of human consciousness. Why are we here? What is the nature of Life? What does it mean to be a god? “Ex Machina” is another amazing film that falls into this latter category.
The film opens with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) winning a contest at his place of employment, a large Google-like corporation. The prize is spending a week at home of their billionaire-recluse employer, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is an unsettling character. His intelligence is exceeded only by his arrogance. Nathan is very welcoming to Caleb, but with a disconcerting social awkwardness. Eventually he reveals to Caleb the true reason of his visit. Nathan has created what he believes to be the first true Artificial Intelligence and needs a third party to execute a “Turing Test” on his creation. Based on concepts introduced by the famous mathematician, Alan Turing, a true thinking computer would be able to hold a conversation with a human with responses and dialogue that were indistinguishable from that of an actual human.
Caleb is fascinated by this proposal and even more intrigued when he meets the subject, a startling attractive and sensual android, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Soon Caleb begins to realize that mind games are being played by all. What are the true motives of each character? What is the end game? How does human morality factor in to artificial life? (if that’s indeed what Ava is?)
“Ex Machina” was written by Alex Garland, well known for also writing “The Beach”, “Sunshine”, and “Dredd.” He shows surprising ability in his debut direction of this film as well. The visuals are both beautiful and startling. (Like Ava herself.) Metaphors abound, both visual and thematic. The dialogue between the handful of characters is genius and razor sharp. There is literally nothing more a true sci-fi fan could want from a film like this.
Smart, beautiful, and haunting, “Ex Machina” is the best film currently in theaters, and ranks among the greatest sci-fi of the past decade.