Ex Machina (2015)
Alicia Vikander, Domnhall Gleason, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno. Written and directed by Alex Garland.
Caleb is a programmer working for the most-used search engine in the world. He wins a contest whose prize is a week spent with the company’s founder at his private mansion, a compound so top-secret that the helicopter flying him there must land in a field from which the house cannot even be seen. “This is the closest I’m allowed to get,” says the pilot. “Just follow the river until you see it.”
On his arrival, Caleb is informed that he’s there to participate in a test of the company’s latest artificial intelligence. As the human component in the tests, his goal is to determine whether the human-shaped container for the AI, whose name is Ava, can interact with a conscious being in such a way that the human cannot tell he is conversing with a computer. But Caleb voices one of the problems with this kind of testing: a chess computer might be able to beat any opponent, apparently thinking better than a human, but does a chess computer know that it’s playing a game? Does it even know what chess is? How do you interrogate a computer so that you can be convinced the computer knows what it is? And once a computer is intelligent and self-aware enough to pass that test, how do you know you can trust any of its responses? And once it starts to ask you questions, how do you know you’re not the one being tested?
As science fiction, Ex Machina is interesting and thought-provoking, if not quite as provocative as better films in the genre. As thriller, it’s a lot more successful. Not as good a science fiction as Oblivion, for example, but as good a thriller as In Time. Oscar Isaac as the billionaire founder and Domnhall Gleason as Caleb are an excellent combination, and the set design is wonderfully cold and glassy. Everyone’s talking about Alicia Vikander nowadays, and now I can see why. She’s sort of the Mara Rooney of 2015.
A better film than its advertising hinted at, and a nice surprise worthy of its critical response.