The Review/Short Read/

Hump Day Movie: Ex-Machina

What happens when a robot discovers she's human after all?

by
May 25, 2016

The future is a scary place, you guys. Soon, you will be able to legitimately order pizza from an actual robot. While this may seem whimsical and fun, combining my twin loves of delicious pizza pies and the tireless quest for artificial intelligence, it's also rather worrisome. What if the robot learns sarcasm? What if the robot decides that my puny human mind cannot effectively create the appropriate combinations for an ideal pizza and eliminates me on the spot? What if soylent green is me?

To get to the root of my deep fears, I suggest that you check out Alex Garland's excellent Ex Machina. When Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a competition at work, he is whisked away to his employer's remote compound. There he meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the founder of Bluebook (a stand-in for Google), who lives there alone with his servant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alice Vikander), a beautiful, otherworldly android he has created, and challenges him to perform the Turing Test, a test designed to determine whether or not an artificial intelligence is human. Caleb obliges, and begins to wonder if Ava is indeed just an assemblage of metal and high-quality plastics, or something entirely different.

When the power goes out and Ava warns him not to trust anything Nathan says, the film propels forward, barreling headlong into the questions of what it means to be human.

Ex Machina stays firmly planted in the specificity of its location while asking those propelling questions. Nathan's compound is all hard slabs of concrete and futuristic glass, nestled in a verdant forest. It’s this melding of the natural and the technological that forms the core of the film.

How do we define the self, and what does it mean when we challenge the foundation of those assumptions? What is it that makes a life one that we value versus one that we deem disposable? How far are we willing to go in our relentless pursuit of perfection? Vikander's Ava becomes the locus of these questions as she glides through the space of Nathan's compound. Alex Garland's film allows for these ideas to crystallize slowly as the audience wonders if Ava is indeed a self aware intelligence, or simply a very clever machine. By the end of the film, the viewer doubts that there ever was a difference between the two.

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