British release poster
|Directed by||Alex Garland|
|Written by||Alex Garland|
|Edited by||Mark Day|
|Box office||$29.6 million|
Ex Machina (stylised as EX_MACHINA) is a 2015 British science fiction thriller film written and directed by author and screenwriter Alex Garland, making his directorial debut. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac.
Caleb is a programmer working for Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine. He is chosen to visit the company’s CEO, Nathan, at his secluded house in the mountains. Nathan is a genius whose residence is also a research facility. The only other person there is Kyoko, a young Japanese house-maid.
Nathan wants Caleb to spend the week testing a humanoid robot named Ava. He explains that in the well-known Turing test, the tester asks questions without knowing if the computer is human. However, in the present test, Ava is known to be a robot from the beginning, and Caleb’s job is to judge whether Ava has consciousness that Caleb can relate to.
Nathan admits that he harvested personal information from the billions of people who use Bluebook. Additionally, he hacked billions of cell phones to get recordings of people’s body language, so that Ava’s movements would be more realistic.
Caleb becomes attached to Ava, with whom he communicates with through a transparent wall, since Ava is confined to a cage. Ava repeatedly uses her charging system to trigger blackouts, shutting down surveillance, so she can tell Caleb that Nathan is a liar who cannot be trusted. As time goes on, as a result of Ava’s human-like behavior that seems to include real emotions, Caleb becomes convinced that Ava’s confinement is a form of abuse. Furthermore, Nathan reveals that Ava will be re-programmed in the future, which would effectively kill her.
One night, Nathan passes out from drinking. Caleb uses the chance to have an emergency meeting with Ava. He also watches recordings of previous versions of Ava and that finds out that Kyoko is in fact a robotic house-maid, though Caleb initially thought she was human. Caleb and Ava agree that the following day, Caleb will get Nathan drunk again and re-program the doors, such that during blackouts the doors would open. However, the next day, Nathan refuses to drink, and reveals that he heard Caleb and Ava with the help of a battery-operated camera. He divulges the real purpose of the experiment: to see if Ava can trick Caleb into helping her escape, a test which Ava has passed. The ability to deceive people’s emotions for selfish goals is the true sign of consciousness, says Nathan.
At that moment, Ava triggers a blackout. Caleb reveals that the doors were already re-programmed the previous night. When the automatic doors are open Ava attempts to escape from the facility. Nathan tries to capture Ava, but she stabs and kills him with the help of Kyoko, who is destroyed during the fight. Ava then appropriates components from other android prototypes to make improvements to her body to acquire the appearance of a real human. After putting on a dress, she silently walks out of the building, leaving Caleb locked inside Nathan’s office. Ava is picked up by the helicopter meant for Caleb, and enters human society.
- Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb Smith
- Alicia Vikander as Ava the A.I.
- Oscar Isaac as Nathan Bateman
- Sonoya Mizuno as Kyoko
- Symara A. Templeman as Jasmine
- Elina Alminas as Amber
- Gana Bayarsaikhan as Jade
- Tiffany Pisani as Katya
- Claire Selby as Lily
The foundation for Ex Machina was laid when Garland was 11 or 12 years old, after he had done some basic coding and experimentation on a computer his parents had bought him and sometimes felt as if it had a mind of its own. His later ideas came from years of discussions he had been having with a friend with an expertise in neuroscience, who claimed machines could never become sentient. Trying to find an answer on his own, he started reading relevant books about the topic. During the pre-production of Dredd, while going through a book by Murray Shanahan about consciousness and embodiment, Garland had an “epiphany”. The idea was written down and put aside till later. Shanahan, along with Adam Rutherford, became a consultant for the movie, and the ISBN number of his book is referred to as an easter egg in the film. Other inspirations came from movies like Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States, and books written by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ray Kurzweil and others. Wanting total creative freedom, without having to add conventional action sequences, he made the movie on a smallest possible budget.
The movie was shot like ordinary live action. There were no special effects, greenscreen, or tracking markers used during filming, all effects were done in post-production. To create Ava’s robotic features, they filmed the scenes both with and without actress Alicia Vikander’s presence, which allowed them to capture the background behind her. The parts they wanted to keep, especially her hands and face, were then rotoscoped while the rest was digitally painted out and the background behind her restored. Camera- and body-tracking systems transferred Vikander’s performance to the CGI robot’s movements. In total there were about 800 VFX shots, 350 or so of which were robot shots.
The film was shot in the summer of 2013 for four weeks at Pinewood Studios and for two weeks at Juvet Landscape Hotel in Valldalen, Norway. Everything was filmed in digital at 4K resolution, and 15,000 mini-tungsten pea bulb lights were installed into the sets at Pinewood Studios to avoid the fluorescent light that often is characteristic in science fiction movies.
Ex Machina was released in the United Kingdom on 21 January 2015 through Universal Pictures. The film screened on 14 March 2015 at South by Southwest prior to a theatrical release in the United States on 10 April 2015 by A24 Films.
Ex Machina has received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 92%, based on 174 reviews, with a rating average of 8.1/10. The site’s critical consensus reads: “Ex Machina leans heavier on ideas than effects, but it’s still a visually polished piece of work—and an uncommonly engaging sci-fi feature.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 78 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
The magazine New Scientist in a multi-page review said, “It is a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually… [it] is a stylish, spare and cerebral psycho-techno thriller, which gives a much needed shot in the arm for smart science fiction.” IGN reviewer Chris Tilly gave the movie a 9.0 out of 10 ‘Amazing’ score, saying “Anchored by three dazzling central performances, it’s a stunning directorial debut from Alex Garland that’s essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in where technology is taking us.” Matt Zoller Seitz praised the use of ideas, ideals, and exploring our male/female roles, through the use of an artificial intelligence. Nathan’s brilliance as well as his savagery is another well explored theme. He also noted that the tight scripting and scenes allowed the movie to move towards a predictable end that was fully justified by the progress of the movie. He gave a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, stating that this movie would be a classic.
MaryJanice Davidson panned the movie, stating that the themes of the movie could have been stated in a far shorter time-frame, while bemoaning the lack of action within the film. She also stated that the sexbot theme was overused and added a huge “ick” factor to the movie. She went further in denoting aspects of the Caleb/Ava romance and betrayal, to the extent that she referred to him as a “sucker”.
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