Movie Review : Ex Machina (2015)
If the 2016 U.S presidential campaign taught me anything about human nature, it's that people's pathological inability to empathize might cause the end of the world. It's a tough subject to discuss because nobody wants to accept responsibility for the ridiculous and dystopian rise to power of Donald Trump. I wouldn't trust many writers to nail the self-defeating conundrum of human nature just like I wouldn't trust any aesthete to say anything insightful about artificial intelligence, yet Alex Garland did both with one movie. That fucking guy did it again. His directorial debut Ex Machina is by far the best movie I've seen this year.
Caleb (Domhall Gleeson) is a young programmer working for a company called Blue Book. He is selected by the owner Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) to participate in a series of Turing tests on a new artificial intelligence model named Ava (Alicia Vikander). The AI proves to be quite disarming during the testing sessions, which lead Caleb to discuss the boundaries of the project with his host. When Ava starts creating power failures in order to give Caleb information without Nathan knowing, Caleb starts questioning the real reasons of his presence in Nathan's home and the very nature of his relationship to Ava.
I fucking love Alex Garland. He is some kind of paragon of creative integrity to me. We owe him classics such as novel The Beach, video game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and iconic Danny Boyle movies such as 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Ex Machina is perhaps his most nimble and nuanced project to date. It's a movie about our relationship to artificial intelligence rather than about the science itself and Garland's point of view is much more subtle and nuanced than Hollywood's typical man-versus-machine confrontational bullshit. Ex Machina explores our inability to understand machines-as-machines and our profound need for connection while our relationship to technology alienates us from one another.
See, Ava doesn't look anything like a human being, except for the face. Caleb, who's a smart and technologically savvy kid, decides to overlook this self-evident variable as soon as Ava asks for her help because it fits his need for human connection. Ava is very much an AI and it shows that Alex Garland did his homework in regards to computer programming when writing her dialogue lines. Caleb's desires are as important to Nathan's Turing test as Ava's because our inescapable need for a coherent narrative where we're the good guy is our weak point that programmed rationality can exploit. It's also why Donald Trump might become President of the United States, hence my intro to this review. Ex Machina tackles a sneaky difficult subject with absolute gracefulness.
Ex Machina is the directorial debut of extraordinarily talented author Alex Garland. It was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and while it was way too bold and forward thinking to win, the mere existence of the movie fills me with hope. It's by far the best story about human nature and our relationship to technology I've experienced this year. One that understands the nuances and the irrational nature of existential loneliness. I loved Ex Machina. It is everything mainstream entertainment should be: a smart, nuanced, seamless and very much user friendly experience. Alex Garland is a beautiful anomaly in a business that always settles for lowest common denominator and should be celebrated as such.