5.04.2015

Eden 2.0: A Review of "Ex Machina" (Major Spoilers)

The title of Alex Garland's film "Ex Machina" is a truncated form of the Latin phrase "deus ex machina."  The translation is "god from the machine."  The phrase conjures similar imagery to the idea of the "ghost in the machine" from Cartesian dualism, especially in the context of a film like "Ex Machina" which deals with an artificial intelligence.  The meaning is much more literal, however.  Deus ex machina refers to a device from Greek drama in which a crane (a machine) would suddenly lower an actor playing a god onto the stage, whose appearance typically provided a convenient solution to a seemingly unsolvable dilemma and wrapped everything up in a nice little package.

Most likely "Ex Machina" as the title of this film, however, was meant to carry dual meaning.  Yes, hardware or machinery is the means by which a superior being enters the stage, but there are also undeniable overtones of what it means to play god, and what happens when your creation deviates from your plans for it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a gifted programmer for a company called Bluebook.  When the story opens, he has won the lottery for a chance to spend a week with the CEO.  Said CEO is Nathan - an eccentric genius by day, raging alcoholic by night played with utmost creepiness by Oscar Isaac.

Nathan has invited Caleb to help him perform the Turing test on an uncannily lifelike android he has created named Ava.  A Turing test is designed to determine if an artificial intelligence can imitate a real consciousness to the extent that a human interacting with it would not necessarily know it was only an artificial intelligence and not another human being.  At least, that is what Nathan tells Caleb.  In reality, Ava is treated more as a prisoner than an intelligent being, and Nathan knows she wants to escape in order to experience the outside world.  Nathan has drawn Caleb into an elaborate scheme to discover if Ava, the proverbial rat in the maze, will use any means necessary - including sexuality, manipulation, empathy, friendship, etc. - to make Caleb her means of escape.  Caleb actually wants to aid Ava's escape, and doesn't believe she is taking advantage of him.  To the shock of both Nathan and Caleb, Ava has pulled the wool over both of their eyes.




It is difficult to ignore the parallel drawn between the final scene and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve's fall from grace.  Nathan is set up as a kind of god or at least "sub-creator" from the beginning of the film.  The similarity between the names "Ava" and "Eve" cannot be coincidental.  Caleb and Ava interact one-on-one for a period of seven days (another Biblical allusion - namely to the creation story).  If artificial intelligence will constitute the dominant race of the new age as Nathan believes - Caleb and Ava are essentially the Adam and Eve of that new world.  But as is inevitable, trouble comes to paradise.  With the help of Caleb who alters some code in the compound's security system, Ava is able to exit the quarters in which Nathan had always kept her confined.  She clads her mechanical body with the skin of other android women who were Nathan's prototypes - just as Adam and Eve had "garments of skin" from animals.  Then, faced with a choice between an eternity in seclusion with her "Adam" or gaining the knowledge of the outside world she has always craved, Ava makes the choice which has been clear to her from the beginning.

With a script that wastes no time on clumsy exposition and every frame constructed as carefully as a circuit board, "Ex Machina" is bonafide science fiction at its finest.  The ultra-modern, angular architecture of Nathan's research center is juxtaposed against the soft organics of the surrounding forest, just as human flesh is juxtaposed against machinery.  The soundtrack by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is sparse but powerful, reaching a crescendo right along with the audience's own heartbeats.  The acting by Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander is both riveting and believable.

There is neither space nor time for the praise this film deserves.  However, I'm certain it wasn't created for praise or merely to entertain.  "Ex Machina" is meant to be thought-provoking.  Open up discussion on the thoughts you came away with below...

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