Film review #566
Director: Alex Garland
SYNOPSIS: Caleb is a programmer working at the tech company Blue Book, and wins a contest at random to spend the week at the remote home of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman. When Caleb arrives, he learns that there is more to his visit than he first realised, as he is being invited to meet an A.I. Nathan has built and to determine where he thinks it possesses true conscience…
THOUGHT/ANALYSIS: Ex_Machina is a 2014 sci-fi thriller film. In the opening, we see programmer Caleb Smith, who is working at the largest search engine company in the world, Blue Book. He is selected at random out of all the employees to spend a week at the home of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman. Upon arriving at Nathan’s remote home, Caleb learns that he is not there to merely hang out with Nathan: he is to meet Nathan’s latest invention, an A.I., and to evaluate whether he thinks it possesses consciousness. The film takes place over the course of the week, with Caleb’s conversations with the A.I. named Ava, as he (and us, as the audience) possesses intelligence. The film also keeps an element of suspense, as Nathan’s true intent opens up a number of questions about what Caleb is doing there, and who (or what) is real and what is an artificial intelligence. There’s not much action in the film, and it instead focuses on suspense and mystery. There’s also a lot of focus, as you might expect, on discussions around A.I., and the film invokes many theories around the subject. There’s a balance between exploring the subject in depth, but also keeping it interesting enough so that the average viewer doesn’t tune out, and there’s definitely times when that balance was not hot for me: I know a fair amount of the different conversations and arguments around A.I. , so I personally didn’t need too much of an explanation for everything, but when the film mentions things like the “Chinese Room,” or drops names like Wittgenstein without any follow up, you get the feeling that this film is oriented more towards those who would understand these things. Nevertheless, I think there’s enough content and intrigue regarding the set up to make it watchable for a more general audience, but not if they’re expecting something with a decent amount of action.
The characters present themselves as a fairly mixed bag: Caleb himself is pretty bland, and we don’t really see much of a personality, but I think this may be a deliberate choice to make Ava seem more human by comparison. Nathan is clearly meant to be a pretentious “tech-bro” CEO and unlikeable from the off, and they certainly succeed with that. He is actually very annoying to watch. Ava as a character has an element of the typical A.I. archetype you see in films, but also the film keeps open the question of what she is programmed to do, and what she herself intends, which adds a layer of mystery and intrigue. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Ava comes off as the most human character in the film. Nevertheless, all the acting is quite good, even if you don’t like the characters.
A lot of the film’s aesthetic and dialogue choices are very deliberate, but perhaps it’s easy to miss them. A lot of the dialogue between Caleb and Ava takes place with a glass partition between them, and it seems to be a recurring theme that there is always something that is separating the characters. Whether this is meant to signify that the two are two individuals that can never fully understand one another, or that there will always be a barrier between A.I. and life, is perhaps purposeful. The contrast between the expansive landscape shots that surround the house, and the tight corridors and windowless rooms again create a feeling that the house is a prison or labyrinth where the questions raised are somewhat disconnected from reality and experience. Ex_Machina is a slick, polished film that clearly has a had a lot of consideration put into how it looks, and how each aspect of the film invokes its themes. It tries to balance an in-depth exploration of its subject with also giving more casual movie-goers something to watch, but I’m not sure that balance is really there. The twists and developments of the film just weren’t too interesting or surprising, and I’m not sure the film has aged enough to provide any lasting significance, since the field of A.I. is changing and evolving very quickly. Maybe some people would find it gripping, but it didn’t quite hold my interest to make it entertaining.