Warning: There are some spoilers in this, so proceed at your own risk!
This past weekend, the Mysterious Mr. C and I joined our friends M and P for a good old-fashioned double date – dinner and a movie. The meal was dim sum, and the film was Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.
Though the sci-fi thriller was on my “To See” list, I had completely forgotten about it until M suggested it as a movie option that the guys might like too. I vaguely remembered that the film involved robots, but that was about it. And you know what, it was actually a lot of fun to go into the theater with just a vague idea of what I was in for! I wasn’t anticipating any particular scene or expecting the story to go a certain way – I could just sit back and enjoy. It was great!
As for the film itself, there isn’t a lot of exposition at the beginning to tell us what is going on, but we eventually learn that Caleb, a young programmer at Blue Book – the world’s largest Internet search engine – has won a lottery to spend a week with Nathan, the company’s reclusive CEO, at his private mountain retreat. While Caleb thinks he’s just there to spend some time bonding with his boss, he learns that he will actually participate in a Turing test, engaging in several conversations with Ava – an android that Nathan designed – to see if the computer genius has created the world’s first true artificial intelligence.
Caleb’s discussions with Ava begin innocently enough, but during a power outage – with no cameras recording their interactions – she tells him that he can’t trust Nathan. With that sliver of doubt planted, Caleb begins to question Nathan’s motives and, after learning that her software will be rewritten if she fails the test, he decides to rescue Ava. However, that plan goes completely awry and the movie ends with Caleb locked in Nathan’s bedroom, Nathan dead on a hallway floor, and Ava leaving the facility.
I don’t want to give away too many other plot points and risk ruining some of the movie’s incredible twists, but I think it’s safe to say that Ex Machina was not at all what I expected – and I mean that in the best way possible! It was an incredibly smart, surprising, and sexy thriller.
Since robots and artificial intelligence are kind of my jam, I’ve seen my fair share of films that focus on good technology gone bad, but Ex Machina is easily the most sophisticated take I’ve seen on that sci-fi standby. And while the typical questions of “What makes us human?” and “How do you measure artificial intelligence?” are present – as is the way we anthropomorphize the things around us – Garland doesn’t linger on the more philosophical sides of the debate. Instead, he builds the suspense like a seasoned veteran; as I told P upon leaving the theater, I would have never guessed that this was his first time behind the camera. Ex Machina truly is a masterful directorial debut and deserves all of the hype it is getting.