Last year’s Her used AI to explore what love might look like in humanity’s weird and mysterious future with technology. Ex Machina does the same but with less complexity, less tact. Written and directed by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Ex Machina gives us a beautiful robot girl and all the creepy sci-fi elements we need — including an alarming conspiracy theory behind search engines and cell phones — but fails to deliver an emotional punch.
It was filmed at the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway and starts nicely. Mild-mannered programmer Caleb (Dohnall Gleeson) wins a contest and is invited to a mountain retreat with the CEO of his company. The CEO is ruggedly handsome tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac). He reveals his big secret: He has created an AI. We meet Ava (Alicia Vikander).
Ex Machina builds tension quietly with menacing stillness. We know something is wrong, either with sleazy Nathan or his silent servant girl or with Ava herself (itself?). We just can’t place our finger on it.
If the film didn’t have such a strong, knockout ending, it would fail. But with its devastating finale, the film becomes a mind-fuck experiment on the question of whether or not a robot can ever completely feel human emotions or simply mimic them — an uncomfortable question to ask in today’s age of smartphones and driverless cars.
Machines are pushed further every day to feel lifelike. Developers know we want to engage with them on a personable level. Digital interconnectivity pervades all parts of our lives. Do we want to know the answer to that question? Do we trust machines?
The film is a mind game, not on its characters, but on us. Because it doesn’t matter if Caleb trusts Ava. What matters is whether or not we do.