This was a very nice surprise, a science fiction film without any explosions, space flight or aliens. This is the sort of story that harkens to the days of thoughtful imagination contained in works by writers like Issac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. The story sets up a question and then follows a path as the question gets answered from the author’s point of view. While there are some nice special effects, most of the drama and suspense and energy of the film stems from the questions and the answers that it makes.
I can see a number of similarities to the film “Her” from a couple of years ago. Both stories feature a winsome man confronting a form of “A.I.” and losing themselves in the process. The idea of artificial intelligence had been around since the advent of computers back in the 1940s. Thinking machines are a part of “Forbidden Planet”, “2001 a Space Odyssey”, and pretty obviously “A.I.” Most of these stories feature a foreboding sense of drama since human beings are forced to confront our own potential inadequacies and extinction. “Ex Machina” does this without the end of the world fireworks that sometimes are demanded of this kind of speculative fiction. That does not mean however that everything feels safe in this film, it doesn’t.
Oscar Issac plays Nathan, a Steve Jobs like genius programmer who lives as a recluse but is admired by his employees at the search engine tech company he created. He has arranged for programming whiz Caleb, a nicely cast Domhnall Gleeson, to spend a week with him in his scientific retreat, located in a Northern Wilderness, hundreds of miles from civilization, in order to participate in a test of his most recent breakthrough. While at first it might seem that Caleb was chosen for his knowledge, that turns out to be only partially true. As much as this story is about Artificial Intelligence, it is also about the invasive mining of information by users of the internet. Those folks who are paranoid about what the NAS is doing with their e-mails should be looking no further than the search bar on their own computers for the real dangerous data mining. At least we know the agenda of the government, but do you know what it is that Yahoo and Google want from you?
The lovely Alicia Vikander is the female robotic manifestation of the A.I.. She is only partially there for most of the movie but her face is enough to hook the young programmer. The test of the A.I. often seems to be going in multiple directions at any time and the tester and the test taker frequently switch roles. Young Miss Vikander is having a good year in 2015. I saw her in “Seventh Son” back in February and she is due back again in this summers “Man From Uncle” (which I am all over). There are basically three main speaking parts in the film but there are a couple of other secondary characters that will manage to both evoke sympathy and fear by the time the movie is over.
A film that asks big questions is something that people should talk about with each other in face to face interactions. The conversation on these questions would give too much of the story away for those who are interested in seeing the movie. The answers that the screenplay provides can be disturbing when you think about the implications of what you have seen. If ultimately, the human race is destined to be supplanted by creatures of it’s own creation, I worry that we may leave out some of the best stuff in ourselves that is worth preserving. Maybe I am just nostalgic for the kinds of things that I knew before; a good book, a good joke, the record store or library, but progress changes all kinds of things and often not for the better.