Young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition to meet the legendary but very reclusive Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the owner of the company Caleb works for, on his secluded, private estate. Once there Caleb discovers this isn’t just a holiday, but that he’s expected to take part in an experiment to see whether Nathan has broken through the barrier to create an artificial intelligence that can truly think for itself, and which is indistinguishable from human behaviour.
Caleb is introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an AI housed in a very human looking body. Soon Caleb is thrown into a quandary. He is extremely taken by Ava, but knows there’s always the possibility that rather than truly thinking, Ava is simply using her programming to ‘fool’ him into thinking she’s more ‘real’ than she is. With Nathan possibly switching Ava off if she fails – something Ava seems to be afraid of – and Caleb increasingly wondering how he knows whether anything is real, the situation starts to grow dangerous.
If you like a bit of thought provoking, intelligent sci-fi, Ex_Machina is the movie for you. While many of the concepts it deals with have been seen on film before, the movie finds a simple yet extremely effective way of presenting it. The setup allows you to get invested in the three main characters and also permits them to have complex discussions about the philosophy behind the experiment without it feeling contrived or unnatural.
Alex Garland’s script is also pretty smart, as it knows its sci-fi tropes and so leads your brain on a journey where engaged viewers will inevitably start wondering whether everything is as it appears. However, the movie is doing it on purpose and eventually the characters begin to start wondering the same things. Even the ending leaves things wonderfully open, as while it is definitely a fitting conclusion, the whole thing will leave you pondering just how you would know if an artificial intelligence was ‘conscious’ or not, and whether Ava fits that or is a deception that even her creator may have underestimated.
The film features some wonderful special effects to create Ava, which for most of the running time make her both incredibly human and yet very artificial all at once. Coupled with some great visuals and a smart use of putting humans in an environment that is a man-made stronghold amidst the wild and natural, it is an extremely well put together movie, and one that manages to entertain and make you think at the same time.
Overall Verdict: If you’re a fan of intelligent sci-fi, Ex_Machina is one to seek out. A simple set-up allows it to reach far greater depths than you might expect.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac