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Ex Machina: Not Just Another AI Movie

Posted by cirvine on July 20, 2015




With so many AI movies coming out this year, it’s not hard to think that the idea might be played out. But Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, is a true sci-fi thriller that takes you into the maze of your own mind, and makes you question what it really means to be human. It grasps you hard from the opening scene to the very end, and doesn’t let go until you are at once confused, satisfied, mystified and shocked.

The story begins with a contest. The CEO of the world’s most popular search engine, Bluebook, has created a contest for his employees, the winner of which will get to spend a week with him at his secluded island home and research facility. The protagonist Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) wins, and his dreams of meeting the genius CEO, Nathan, are realized.

Upon landing at the hidden estate, he learns that Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) has been working on his magnum opus: artificial intelligence. Nathan sets Caleb to work right away, and his first task is to take his latest AI robot, Ava, through the Turing Test:  a series of questions and conversations used to determine whether she is indeed thinking for herself, or is just mimicking human thought and emotion.


By the first conversation, we can tell there’s much more to Ava than just hardware and software. Not only has she been given humanoid features like a face, hands and feet, but she challenges Caleb with thought-provoking responses to his questions. She asks "What will happen to me if I fail your test?" and "Do you have someone who switches you off if you don't perform as you should...then why should I?" It’s responses like these that immediately make you feel empathy for Ava. She becomes the hero you root for, an innocent bystander in humanity’s unhealthy obsession with becoming gods.

The film’s title itself comes from deus ex machina, a Greek phrase meaning “god in the machine”. The term has come to refer to a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by some unexpected intervention: a new character, ability, object or other unknown piece of the story. It is interesting to note that the deus part of the phrase has been removed from the film’s title. We are in the machine, but where is the god? Is it Nathan, or someone/something else? Will the problem of AI consciousness be solved, or will we be left stranded in the machine without resolution? Not to reveal too much, but the last shocking scenes of the movie answer these questions beautifully.

On the surface, Ex Machina is a story about human consciousness, and our ceaseless god complex. But behind the curtain, there is much more at play. Deception, voyeurism, artistic conception, sexuality, the loss of one’s own mind; these themes are all a part of the thrill ride. It’s a film you won’t be able to stop thinking about long after it’s ended.

You can watch Ex Machina on Execulink's VOD Channel (100) from July 14th to August 13th, 2015.