By Laurie Coker
Having spent several blocks having my students demonstrate their analysis of setting, theme and character for a novel using Minecraftedu, and watching a friend of mine take a graduate class in part inside a virtual world called Second Life, I looked forward to seeing Ex Machina at SWSX. I watched it again at a press screening, looking more closely the second time into the dialogue and interactions of the character than at the cool CGI and excellent performance. Still, the overall story is sparse, even if there are clear themes regarding artificial intelligence.
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a wiz computer programmer, wins an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend a week with his boss, a brilliant programmer and inventor, Nathan Batman (Oscar Isaac). As it turns out Caleb has been brought to Nathan’s secluded home for a purpose – to perform the Turning Test on what Nathan describes as the greatest scientific advancement of all time. He has not creating a simple human-like robot, but rather, Nathan‘s attempts creating life. His remarkable creation is named Ava (Alicia Vikander). This beautiful, soft spoken creature challenges Caleb, who may just be an unwilling subject in a completely different test.
Ava is exceptional and the special effects here are flawless. Vikander gives Ava enough human qualities to allow Caleb to question his role and view points and just enough machine to make the Turning Test intriguing. Nathan’s compound is remarkable too – very space-age in feel and its solitude is palpable. There is another soul in the scene, a woman servant in most ways a man needs, name Lily who cannot speak English and therefore is no threat to Nathan’s secrets.
Whether I am just quick minded or have seen too many movies, I figured much of the story’s twists and turns far before they happened, but that did not keep me from admiring the efforts of writer/director Alex Garland. His imagery is perfection and as noted magnificent to see, even in all the starkness. When he contrasts Nathan’s inner world with the real, green, lush natural world it is notable and stunning.
Most movies about artificial intelligence are really about us, humans and our desires or fears or egos. Garland’s tale reveals and touches on much of the same, but does so with visual flourish. Garland’s screenplay allows for us to continue to question the ideas of what makes us human beings, and to ponder the roles of technology and the direction it is taking us and that’s never a bad thing. I am putting a C+/B- in my grade book. I might have hung a solid B had I not predicted most of the plotline including key aspects of the final scene.