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Ex Machina

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Ex Machina

Ever since the cold and dismal “Year Without a Summer” in 1816, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, we have been writing about the complications of trying to create artificial sentience. The sci-fi movie world has used this plot theme over and over. Back to Fritz Lang’s amazing Metropolis with its female robot “The Machine”, through all of the variations on Frankenstein movies, Robbie the Robot in The Forbidden Planet, androids in Blade Runner, and more recent films like Kubrick/Speilberg’s AI - Artificial Intelligence or the more recent Her, we have contemplated just what happens when you create a machine that can “think”. Back in the 40’s, early computer inventor Alan Turing considered this at a time when computers were barely up to the task of adding up your grocery bill; he came up with what’s been referred to as the Turing Test, which is whether a computing device can respond to a question in a way that would convince an objective human that the response is intelligent.

This time, the story is of an eccentric, genius billionaire Nathan (Oscar Issac), who has invited a brilliant programmer Caleb (Domhall Gleason) to evaluate Ava (Alicia Vikander), an engaging and attractive android, to see if Caleb can determine whether Ava can pass the Turing Test. The test is taking place in a forbiddingly isolated complex, apparently only inhabited by Nathan, Ava and his beguiling “servant” (who does not speak English) Kyoko. Caleb can ask Ava any question and discuss anything with her, but she is physically isolated from him behind glass walls; both are under 24 X 7 surveillance, except during brief power failures.

The plot takes a turn when, during one of the failures, Ava reveals to Caleb that Nathan can not see them when the power is out and reveals that she wants OUT of the complex. She is being held against her will. She says that Nathan is not what he appears to be and is dangerous. Caleb discovers that Nathan is erratic, potentially violent and that he’s a heavily drinking alcoholic. As the days pass, Caleb feels more isolated, trapped and unsure what he’s really doing and WHY he is doing it. By this time, the viewer is probably convinced that Ava has passed the Turing Test, but that doesn’t help; now the question is, just what is the real game here. Things are getting less clear rather than more for Caleb. His situation takes a turn for the worse when Caleb starts to probe into parts of the building that are none of his business and discovers more aspects of Nathan’s work and intention. Each revelation makes this wide open environment become more claustrophobic as Caleb realizes just how far away he is and how helpless.

Ex Machina is one of the more intelligent and theoretical films I have seen in a while. It’s worth being familiar with the concept of AI and the Turing Test. It’s the only film I can recall having seen that uses the word stochastic (look it up). It’s somewhat slow to develop, but, like Nathan, continues to become more menacing the more we learn. With a sparse cast, there are three performances of note, Oscar Issac as Nathan, Domhall Gleason as Caleb and a highly digitized Alicia Vikander as Ava. The cinematography is quite good and the highly digital FX of the androids is excellent. The film is the directorial debut by Alex Garland, who also wrote the script. His previous credits are mainly as a writer, notably for 28 Days Later and Dredd. He’s not a well known name in the US (he’s British) but, based on Ex Machina, he should be. If you like your sci-fi to be high-concept rather than monsters, running and shooting, this is definitely worth seeing.

Has anyone else seen this? I've heard lots of good things about it but it doesn't look very appealing from the trailer or plot summaries.
"Anything less than immortality is a complete waste of time."

Brilliant! I really enjoyed it. Many did not like the ending, but it's the correct ending to make the point about Ava's state of mind and awareness.

"They not only f**k, but they have been programmed to enjoy it" - answers what would motivate the mad and isolated scientist in Nathan. Fitting that internet porn search is referenced.

The underlying message is about the ethics of AI if and when we break through and create self-aware beings concerned with self-preservation. Up until that point, we are just playing with hardware and software.

Always the nagging, unanswerable question in this sort of story is whether creation of programmed intelligence is real or whether it's series of automated responses to all of the questions that the programmer thinks will be asked. Given the rudimentary state of programming in Turing's day, I doubt that he would have envisioned a program so large and comprehensive that it's still just producing programmed responses to anticipated questions, even if there are millions of them. I don't think we're that close to understanding whether robots can't have real sentience like us, or....more troubling....maybe we just do the same thing that the robots do....respond in a programmed way.

Ex Machina
Alex Garland

"The challenge is not to act automatically.
It's to find an action that is not automatic.
From painting, to breathing, to talking, to f*cking.
To falling in love... "

Something that really fascinates me, is whether we'll ever be able to develop artificial intelligence. Each film about this subject gets my complete attention anyway and can count on my unconditional enthusiasm. I don't know why and what attracts me the most in those movies. Is it just curiosity about the question if someone will ever succeed in developing such a machine? Will artificial intelligence cause the downfall of humanity as some prominent scientists profess (Hawking for instance claims this) ? Is such a self-discursive machine capable of showing real feelings and respond in a human way? And after seeing the packaging of this artificially intelligent creature, which looked enormously appetizing to me, the whole spectacle couldn't go wrong anyway.

The list of movies with this topic is fairly extensive: from "Blade Runner" to "AI", "I Robot" and "Short Circuit", "Robocop" and recently "Chappie". Even Pixar's "Wall-E" fits in this list. Recent movies I liked the most were "The Machine" and of course "Her". In this last movie it's a sultry, seductive voice that represents the philosophy of AI. Unfortunately, most films contain excellent material for the prophets of doom in this world to say that AI isn't exactly something we're waiting for. Usually it goes horribly wrong and the creation turns against its human designer in order to get the balance of power tilted into its direction. I think this is the ultimate proof of AI but at the same time I don't think it's supposed to end that way. "Ex Machina" is no exception to this rule.

It all starts when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) receives an e-mail at the end of the week saying that he has won a sleepover at his boss's residence. The moment he arrives on the immense estate and enters the modern underground house of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), he doesn't know that he has been selected to submit the latest creation from Nathan to extensive testing. He's introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), designed by the eccentric billionaire, and he must investigate during 5 days, using a Turing test, if Ava actually expresses and uses human feelings. But nothing is what is seems and at some point you're really wondering who's on the test bench!

Looking at this movie in its entirety, you won't easily conclude that this is a low budget film and that they succeeded, despite the low budget, in creating an impressive environment and atmosphere. The ultra-modern property of Nathan comes with high-tech gadgets and looks tight , sober, cold and sterile with an ingenious verification system, design furniture scattered around and ambient lighting which is activated automatically or via voice control. There's an internal video monitoring system and apparently a fortune was spent on the power supply, although occasionally the system is failing. And then there is the phenomenon Ava who eerily resembles a wandering robot, even though you realize it's played by an actress, complete with arms with sophisticated wiring and a skull with partly a humanly face and a kind of electronic system. The way the brain looks like and works is something I've never seen so far in SF. It demonstrates an original approach to the effective development of AI.

The next issue are the performances. This is naturally limited to the three main characters: Nathan, Caleb and Ava. Oscar Isaac manages to portray Nathan in a very convincing way. A phenomenal intellectual character who has separated itself from civilization. This complete isolation has caused quite some bizarre features. From the outset, you have the feeling there's something wrong and Nathan takes a menacing pose. His unpredictable moods, the alcohol consumption and the rather perverse sexual fantasies transform this genius into an unstable-looking person. The alleged prizewinner Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson who previously starred in "About time", seems to have a rational mind, but eventually appears to be rather naive. The dialogues between him and Nathan are on a high philosophical level and include mostly the resulting gaps after creating artificial life. Caleb also has highly interesting conversations with Ava. And Ava impressed me the most. Alicia Vikander, a professional ballet dancer, succeeds in (with the use of CGI) looking like a real human-like cyborg. The astonished facial expression and prudent movements are some of the most sublime performances that makes her believable as Ava.

What remains is the storyline and plot used in this SF. Undeniably, it's a psychological thriller in which everyone apparently has a hidden secret agenda, full of secrets and manipulative motives. And to be honest, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. However, the run up is magnificent, despite some considerations. At first it seems implausible to me that Nathan, despite his intellectual level, could develop something like Ava completely on his own. That means he's also a master in other branches of natural science (chemistry, mechanics, electronics, biochemistry ...). And I suppose he knows the laws of Isaac Asimov. Shouldn't he consider these and take his precautions ? As in "Her" we witness a relationship between a human and a semi-human, except that Ava uses the highlighting of her female forms in her favor. And Ava uses these qualities just like women all over the world do to achieve their goal. I'm sure that's true AI !

A system of cells interlinked
I thought this was really well done. I loved the icy, isolated tone of the film.
“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal, and if they are equal, they are not free.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Sorry Harmonica.......I got to stay here.
Just saw this, finally! Wow, this one is a smart, subdued sci-fi flick. Would make a great double-feature with "Her" if you wanted an evening of cool AI pondering.
Under-the-radar Movie Awesomeness.