Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ex-Machina

2015, Alex Garland (writer Sunshine, Dredd, 28 Days Later) -- cinema

This is Alex Garland's directorial debut. His writing, both novel and screenplay are always creative and like to stretch an idea. Ex-Machina touches on every trope previously explored about AIs, intelligent robots and their creators. But Garland puts an intensely thoughtful color to his rendition.

First up, Ex-Machina is about Nathan, a man who wants beautiful things. He is mega-ultra-rich, the founder of a Google Microsoft Apple analog that make a search engine (and mobile phone, PC, technology, etc.) called Bluebook. He owns a house way past the middle of nowhere, a beautifully constructed monstrosity that is self-reliant, internally powered and completely off the grid. Well, there is no grid. Not only does it blend well into the temperate environment, it IS part of the environment for there are no roads, no way to get to the house but by helicopter that lands hundreds of yards away in a flower filled field. All the surrounding land, mountains, glaciers and primeval forest are his. He also makes beautiful dolls.

Don't get me wrong. The architecture here is incredible, that combination of modern concrete construction and green living. Every window looks out onto untouched, overgrown fully natural forest. There is not even a proper walkway to  the front door. It really is away from it all. And yet, still has all the amenities a richy rich guy needs.

Caleb wins a contest. He gets to meet Nathan. But Caleb doesn't know that Nathan has ulterior motives, to use the smarts that assisted Caleb in winning the contest, to test out Nathan's new AI. They are employer, employee, so its OK if Nathan lords a bit over Caleb. But we still get the impression that Nathan is a bit of an asshole. But we might forgive, for we also get the feeling he is one of the so unbelievably intelligent people that he is above us to a degree. You only forgive that, if you value that. Caleb does. Nathan relies on it.

Nathan's new AI is housed inside a beautiful doll. Ava, a rather delicate, mostly transparent but sensuously moving robot played by delicate flower Alicia Vikander, is an innocent creature that is nervous around Caleb, curious but cautious. After all, Caleb is the first person she has ever seen outside of her creator.

Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test, but already he is derailed, for you are not supposed to know whether you are dealing with an AI or a human intelligence, when you run the test. Caleb is being challenged whether he will continue to distinguish Ava from a human life, after he gets to know her. After she gets to know him. Caleb wants to analyse her, as this is his strong suit, but Nathan want him to just interact with her.

So, the tropes. AI housed in sensual female attributed bodies. Smart but abrasive creator. A naive but trustworthy soul meant to interact with the AI. And it continues. Sex slaves, for whatever reason does a man create such a beautiful female body for his AI, other than to have a sex doll? Ownership; how dare his creations not love him!! Deception; the innocent AI is always more than she seems.  Desire to be human; Ava so desperately wants Caleb to like her, as she instantly crushes on him. She tries on clothes, hair and in the end, skin. Man become gods, but Nathan probably already thought that of himself.

But Garland explores these all quietly and patiently with little judgement. Oh, we are meant to eventually judge Nathan, or admire him. That is up to you. The dialogue is about interaction, and I won't trip quickly into saying 'human interaction' because not all of it is, but it sure plays on what it means to be a human. Oh yeah, that trope. Was I the doll all along? And the final trope; never trust an AI. Never. They are smarter than us. You forget this; you pay.

Well, at least they didn't take over the Internet.

Damn fine movie.