Computers are sometimes referred to as dumb machines that wait to be told what to do. Scientists and other theorists have wondered, though, if human beings can write software sophisticated enough to allow machines to think and reason. “Ex Machina,” a chilling new science fiction film, explores that scenario.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young coder working for Blue Book, makers of a popular Internet browser. A company lottery selects him for a week’s visit with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the company’s founder. It’s not just a paid vacation, though, because Nathan wants Caleb to test Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robotic female endowed with what he hopes is artificial intelligence.
Nathan asks his employee to perform “Turing Tests” on Ava to see if her responses are those of a sentient being or a machine. During their time together, Ava warns Caleb that Nathan may not be as nice and honest as he appears to be. It’s also easy to see that Caleb is developing feelings for the synthetic woman.
Writer/director Alex Garland creates a beautiful landscape for “Ex Machina,” one that matches the stark beauty of the screenplay. Overhead shots of Nathan’s mountain retreat are breathtakingly beautiful. Inside, the living quarters and laboratories are wonders made of glass and stainless steel. The lines are precise and clean, but the whole place feels like the inside of a hospital morgue.
Set to appear in the upcoming “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” Alicia Vikander is seductively brilliant as Ava. Though her body is clearly robotic, her words and mannerisms exude a feminine mystique. Vikander overcomes the computer-generated special effects and makeups to give Ava child-like qualities one moment and warm sensuality the next.
Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”) brings passion combined with righteous indignation to Caleb, the coder clearly in over his head. Overcoming his hero worship, Caleb questions the ethics of what Nathan is doing in his lab. Gleeson shows how Caleb can be swayed at different times by both his boss and Ava. His expressive face shows that internal struggle in many powerful scenes.
Though the late Steve Jobs doesn’t necessarily come into play, Oscar Isaac embodies the breed of CEO’s that emerged during the digital age. Obsessed with his body, Nathan works out all the time, especially after he stays up late drinking. Nathan also isn’t above using his inventions and customers for his own purposes, dismissing any harm that he may be doing.
Like “Chappie,” “Ex Machina” offers the familiar dilemma of mankind trying to play God. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander’s performances offer contrasting pictures of the human condition. Nathan abuses his organic body while Ava embraces her allure and growing awareness. It’s hard to tell who really is the more human of the two.
“Ex Machina,” rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence, currently is playing in local theaters.