Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a young, promising programmer works for an American internet-search giant, Blue Book. One day he finds out he’s just won the first prize in his company’s competition – it consists of spending a week in the huge, private mountain estate, being the guest of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rub elbows with a living legend of the Internet and search engines, a man who aged just 13 wrote the source code of the most popular search engine in the world. Apart from two gents, the only other person in the house is Kyoko, a gorgeous Asian (Japanese ?) housemaid who does not speak, and is purported not to understand the English language for security reasons (and pigs can fly, ha ha).
Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that he might spend his time swilling beer and playing snooker or doing something truly exciting. Nathan has chosen him with a particular task in mind – Caleb is supposed to be the human component in a Turing Test which aim is to evaluate the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. Curious Caleb agrees to sign a highly detailed nondisclosure agreement and be useful; then he finds out that the experiment comes in a shape of a pretty young woman called Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android with truly sophisticated and deceptive emotional intelligence.
Still, why Caleb’s employer and host, Nathan, is lying through his teeth most of the time?
A very muted, almost modest movie, without almost any special effects, grand decorations and/or outlandish outfits and yet… it really moved my imagination. In fact Ex Machina might be easily one of the best sci-fi films I’ve watched this year: it was smart, entertaining and positively disturbing, making me think of Blade Runner, a movie I adore. Apart from that the characters mentioned both Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jackson Pollock, imagine that.
Ok, let’s start from the very beginning. Imagine a genius recluse who has created something truly outstanding – a machine which can not only move and speak like humans but also think and act on her own. Yes, her, because the mighty male creator decided a female would fit his purpose the best. Still having technical and financial means to do something is not the same as doing the right thing. Has Nathan created artificial life? Is he aware of the possible implications? Can anybody be aware of all the implications of such an invention ? What about A.I.’s rights – after all Ava is thinking, reasoning so she can suffer, be displeased and demand more. She is also intelligent enough to recognize a lie by just reading your facial micro movements. Could she be still treated as your possession, a part of house furniture, like a chair, a table or a computer ? Has Nathan thought about those issues at all? Observing his behaviour, the overindulgence in drinking and the complete lack of any human company I doubted it from the very beginning. And I was right.
What’s more, while watching Ex Machina I never felt underestimated as a viewer, never felt neglected or patronized. The movie was unafraid to spend the majority of its run-time discussing the Big Questions – or indeed, just to be discussing things full-stop. Imagine that – no fighting and/or running scenes, no death-and-life decisions to be made in mere seconds, no teary romance, no light sabres and yet I was glued to the screen, listening to people and a machine who were just talking to each other. Actually the narration was at its best when the characters were simply doing that, creating a delicate, hypnotic back-and-forth between the humans and the new creature in their midst which might or might not possess a fully-fledged self-awareness. Which was, surprise, surprise, far more interesting that constant shooting, killing, running away or chasing somebody or something in space. In fact it created a perfect balance between entertainment and deep ideas for me, never overdoing one at an expense of the other. Add to that a scenic waterfall and a mountain glacier, both belonging to Nathan and situated close to his house (now you can say to all those snotty millionaires: you are not truly rich until you can afford a glacier. ;p).
A thought-provoking story which is also visually gorgeous and smart, combining beautiful cinematography with fantastic CGI. Can you ask for more in a sci-fi flic? I think not. I feel I must rewatch it.