Over the weekend, on the plane from Chicago to Seattle, I watched Ex Machina, a film that I’d been meaning to see since it got a bunch of press in the Oscar season.
Ex Machina describes the ‘Turing Test’ trial of a newly invented AI wherein a lowly code monkey visits his Sergey-Brin-esque boss to interview the feminine robot. It first feels like the whole thing might play out a bit like Her, but the filmmakers do a good job of keeping the plot just a step or two ahead of your intuitions.
Some overly necessary suspension-of-disbelief notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this film. The cinematography really hearkens back to a more understated style of science fiction, not unlike favorites of mine: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon and The Andromeda Strain, among others.
In a scifi market saturated with thrillers like The Martian and Interstellar, I found it immensely refreshing to watch a scifi film that focused on the particulars of an encounter with technology rather than a 120 minute roller-coaster of a plot.
The film is at its best in the tight, claustrophobic scenes wherein the protagonist grapples with the peculiarity of his situation and ultimately what it means to be human - a not uncommon scifi trope. However cliched this may seam, the brilliance by which Ex Machina explores and develops its small cast gives an interesting twist on the “human encounter with AI” premise.
Though, as I alluded to, Ex Machina isn’t without its faults. I may be pontificating a bit here, but it really makes no sense that this billionaire tech mogul could simultaneously solve the problems of creating a ‘conscious’ AI and the physical construction of a believably lifelike humanoid robot. And, that he could do all of that by himself, which is loosely implied.
It’s not a terribly long mental leap, but I found myself to be rolling my eyes a bit when Caleb — the visitor — asked several technical questions about Ava’s — the AI’s — natural language processing algorithms when he himself didn’t recognize the absurdity of how large a development was.
Taking that as granted, the only other ‘problem’ I had with the film was it’s ending. (Spoiler Warning!) I’m not really sure what I was supposed to read into the fact that Ava leaves Caleb in the locked mansion - presumably to die? I liked that it didn’t wrap up too cleanly, and Nathan’s - tech billionaire - demise was fitting, but it all felt a bit cold. Which I guess was the intended effect, so chalk this up as a success rather than a failing.
All in all, I’d really enjoy seeing a return to the small-cast philosophizing scifi of the past. Ex Machina displays that such a format is still viable - perhaps now more than ever. Solid film. Would recommend a viewing.