In one sense, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is nothing new. Themes of artificial intelligence have been thoroughly explored both seriously and not so seriously throughout the history of science fiction. Yet for at least the first half of Ex Machina, Garland manages to breathe fresh life into the genre in a diverting and incisive manner.
Having won a company lottery, computer programmer Caleb (Domhnal Gleeson) flies to a remote location to meet his boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who has been busy constructing a prototype AI in female form called Ava (Alicia Vikander). Nathan instructs that Caleb perform a “Turing” test on Ava, whereby in a series of interviews he will determine whether she is a true AI or not. Caleb is drawn to Ava, but is he simply a pawn in a bigger experiment?
Ex Machina explores the usual themes of the genre. Can a machine feel like a human? Can it learn and evolve? If so what separates human from machine and – the hoary old question at the heart of science fiction – what does it mean to be human? Garland marries these themes to contemporary concerns such as privacy, search engine hacking and internet pornography. It’s all very interesting, until…
Well, let’s just say the second half is a lot less cerebral, and instead resembles a 70s revenge exploitation flick. That isn’t necessarily a criticism, but it’s worth adding as a warning since the film contains swearing, violence and a more than strictly necessary amount of nudity.
Performances are all solid, particularly from Vikander who was so good in A Royal Affair and who is finally getting the wider acclaim she deserves. Soon to be Star Wars alumni Gleeson and Isaac also acquit themselves well, ensuring what is essentially a straightforward genre three hander is raised a good notch or so above that level – at least, before it descends into pulp, which as I mentioned earlier, is likely to bother some audiences more than others.
Concerns that the film was overreaching somewhat, striving to be Westworld or even Blade Runner, had long since evaporated as the end credits rolled. In other words, Ex Machina proved a lot less thought provoking than I initially expected.