Last year’s Her used AI to explore the complexities of relationships — with technology, and with each other. Ex Machina looks just as intelligent, but it’s only skin deep.
Written and directed by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Ex Machina will get compared to Spike Jonze’s rose-tinted robot love story simply because both have a human dude falling in love with a robo-girl.
Both films attempt the Turing test. Can a viewer be tricked into thinking a machine is human — capable of original thoughts, feelings, and emotions? According to Jonze and Garland, the answer is yes.
Ex Machina gives our robo girl a face and body and it still leaves us feeling unconvinced and unconcerned. It had all the elements — including an alarming conspiracy theory behind search engines and camera phones — but failed to deliver a solid emotional punch.
It was filmed at the gorgeous Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway and started nicely. Mild-mannered young 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, bearded tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac). He reveals his big secret: he has created an AI. And then we meet Ava (played by Alicia Vikander).
Ex Machina builds tension subtly. We know something is very 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 ending, it would fail. But with such a devastating finale, the film becomes an experiment on the question of whether or not a robot can ever completely feel human emotions or if it can only mimic them — an uncomfortable question to ask in today’s age of smart phones and self-driving cars. Machines are pushed further and further every day to feel lifelike. Developers know we want to engage with them on a human, personable level. Tech and digital interconnectivity pervades all parts of our lives. Do we want to know the answer?
The brilliance of the film’s structure is that it doesn’t matter if Caleb falls in love with a robot girl. What matters is whether or not we do.