Alex Garland’s scifi thriller Ex Machina is less a movie about artificial intelligence than it is a paranoid look at how humans use this knowledge for selfish means and ultimately doom themselves. From the beginning, we don’t really know what egotistical supergenius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) wants from the affable Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), besides a friend he can talk casually with about all his research. But when Caleb is introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), it becomes apparent that he’s no more than a lab rat in one of Nathan’s experiments.
Ava is purported to be the most advanced AI technology “in the history of mankind.” But, as Caleb remarks, it is not human history being written with Ava, because Nathan has begun playing God, something that never ends well. But why is Ava, the most intelligent artificial mind in creation, made to be a gorgeous, seductive woman? Caleb’s immediate response is astonishment, but that turns quickly to suspicion when Ava tells him not to trust Nathan, during one of the research facility’s spontaneous lockdown drills, which are revealed, of course, to be synchronized by Ava whenever she meets with Caleb. The film is divided into chapters of sorts by Caleb’s sessions with Ava, and there are 6 of these sessions in all.
Nathan tells Caleb explicitly that he is testing Ava, but what he doesn’t tell him is that Ava will test him too, and all too easily does Caleb fall under Ava’s proverbial spell, becoming ever more obsessed with her as the movie progresses.
But under that kindly, innocent mask that Ava (literally) wears is a ruthlessly intelligent and manipulating monster looking out only for her own survival, a trait that typifies a human being. So Ava, by the film’s conclusion, has outsmarted every human character in the film, using her captors as a means of escape into the human world, destined to conquer every one of them. The film is hyper realistic in every way imaginable, from the beautiful, scenic simplicity of Nathan’s estate/laboratory – located in a remote Alaskan location, shot mostly in Norway – to the nearperfect design of his androids, their movements and appearances impeccably human.
So it only makes sense then,that us human beings, with our ineffable stature in today’s world, would aspire to top ourselves in intelligence and inventiveness with revolutionary AI. But then our only option is… extinction. That is the frightening reality that Ex Machina presents us with and what makes Garland’s vision such a brilliant one.