Caught Ex Machina earlier today – a film I wanted to see, but figured it wouldn’t go on wide release, and would only play in arthouse cinemas like the Uptown or The Lagoon here in the Twin Cities, but no, there it was at the AMC chain up in Roseville. When I read a brief description of the plot about six or seven months ago, I was immediately interested; the philosophical question of identity – what it is, how it can be changed, etc – is a favourite topic of mine. Not only that, what I read reminded me a lot of the very good British sci-fi anthology show Black Mirror (now streaming on Netflix), so when I got the chance to go to see it, I jumped.
The premise of the movie is that the protagonist travels to the remote home of a brilliant young scientist to administer a Turing Test to an artificial intelligence he has created, but ultimately forms an attachment to it. That’s the story in a nutshell, and the movie plays this hand very early on, so that act 2 keeps the viewer wondering what’s happening here by creating a growing tension between all three major characters. The movie has a couple of key reveals, all very well done indeed. Alex Garland, in his directorial debut, does a fine job here. The movie is well balanced tonally, and all three performances are very good, especially Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) – although in retrospect, his character is the least believable, for reasons I won’t go into, since I don’t like to give out plot details.
Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it a lot, and while it isn’t a deeply profound movie, it’s definitely a thinker’s movie. I was engaged throughout, wondering about the nature of romantic attraction, the human need to anthropomorphize the world around us, the technological inevitability that sentience will one day be created by us. What will the world be like when the first self-aware artificial life forms walk among us? It’s a sci-fi concept that ends up with the machines turning cold and dismissing us (The Terminator, Avengers: Age of Ultron, to name only two), but why wouldn’t such creatures possess the same abilities that make ourselves reach for the great heights we are frequently capable of? We can teach others the good and great, as well as the bad.
The movie has a couple of flaws for me – Oscar Isaac’s character, as I’ve said, but also the robot it/herself. I can understand putting a pretty face on a body of mesh and transparent plastic, but the movie could have said much more about the human need to love and be loved if the human qualities had been de-emphasized. But these are small flaws. One last note – I mentioned Black Mirror earlier; Ex Machina does indeed play like Black Mirror: The Movie, and interestingly enough, Domhnall Gleeson appeared in that series, in an episode that makes for a good counterpoint to this movie.
© Andrew Hope 2015