SARAH GOEGAN & TOM MONOTTI
Volume 10, Issue 2
This week we review Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a programmer who wins the opportunity to spend a week at the secluded home of his company’s enigmatic founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb arrives to discover he has been chosen to be the human component in a Turing test - Nathan has created an AI, named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Over the course of the week, Caleb finds himself immeasurably engaged with an AI that perfectly replicates human emotions, and starts to question the motives of her creator.
T: Writer/director Alex Garland is a notorious figure in British sci-fi who has crafted a fascinating film, full of complex ideas about humanity and its ability to be replicated by artificial intelligence. Easily the best scenes are those between Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.
S: I agree, Tom. Also, this is Alex Garland’s directorial debut - it’s fantastic. He’s brought together three great actors who are at the top of their games at the moment.
T: He certainly did, yes.
S: The dialogue is so nuanced. While we’re first drawn in by the conundrum of whether Ava can truly feel emotions, what we ultimately realise, however (or at least, what I drew from it), is that the film is asking us about what is the nature of ‘humanity’, and is this something we should truly be seeking to replicate? Without giving too much away, the ending is made all the more shocking and confronting by these realisations - does Ava actually feel empathy, or do we just want her to have that capacity?
T: Those definitely are the compelling questions, and we remain engaged with them by the conspiracy of the story. For instance, we don’t know what the test is for, or how far it’s going to go. That’s what makes it such good writing!
S: Absolutely. Plus, it gets bonus points for building such an intense atmosphere, but one which is broken in one scene by what is probably one of the best dance sequences I’ve ever seen on film - and still continue as if nothing happened. But, when you consider it further, this particular scene, as a plot device, conveys so much about Nathan in such a simple and effective way.
T: I agree entirely. I love Nathan’s character, someone who is bored because he sees himself as more intelligent than others. I’m very glad Alicia Vikander won an Oscar, although it should have been for this film. And Ex Machina was well-deserving of its special effects Oscar, particularly for an independent film with a small budget.
S: Agreed. Alex Garland has created three complex, fascinating characters, who each represent distinct aspects of human nature. I think the humanity/technology binary is also conveyed perfectly by the use of lighting and setting - for example, Nathan’s ultra-modern home is set in a beautiful forest environment. I could talk about Ex Machina all day, so I’ll conclude by giving it a 5/5. This was one of my favourite movies of 2015.
T: Me too, 5/5.
Sarah and Tom are third-year JD students
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