With Ex-Machina, Alex Garland has written and directed not a great film, but a very good one. Among the cast, Alicia Vikander stands out, giving her artificially intelligent Ava a very human quality.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer in a highly successful search engine company created by IT genius and now reclusive billionaire Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
One day he finds out that he has won the first prize in a competition, spending a weekend with Nathan on his estate. It does not take long for Nathan to reveal that he plans to let Caleb in on his secret Artificial Intelligence project: the creation of an artefact indistinguishable from a human being in body and mind. Caleb’s job will be to spend time with Nathans latest prototype, the lovely Ava (Alicia Vikander), to assess by interviewing her to what extent Nathan has achieved what he has set out to do.
Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. To this Nathan has added some abilities one might describe as emotional intelligence and put it all in a very attractive package. Artificial Intelligence as a discipline is already far advanced so that science fiction films like this are visions of a potential not so distant future.
Of course, as we know since the legends of all time (Pygmalion, the Golem) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein such beings tend to develop ideas of their own. Two nerdy men and an artificially intelligent woman or two is the kind of ménage- à-trois +, that gives the screen-play writer quite a few possibilities – and Alex Garland has used them quite skilfully to create not a great film, but a very good one.
Ex_Machina is an entertaining and suspenseful story about an important issue that our children or grandchildren may very well have to address in real life. The film works as a thriller but beyond that, raises important questions about society and technology. Not least the topical question of how nerdy internet billionaires will decide to spend their sheer inexhaustible private resources without any effective democratic involvement, checks and balances, let alone controls of ethical boundaries.
Among the acting performances, Alicia Vikander stands out, giving her artificial character a very human quality.