Using the concept of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina speaks to the question of whether a robot can be human. Yet, beyond the robotic character there are questions about humans and how they relate to each other and how those relationships can be used to manipulate each other.
The story begins when Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen to spend a week with his boss in a remote estate. Caleb is a programmer for the world’s largest Internet company and this affords him a chance to meet the reclusive Nathan (Oscar Issac), who created the company.
Nathan has created an artificial intelligence he calls Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is to test Ava to see if he believes her to be truly human and not merely a machine. Nathan places Caleb in a room where a plexiglass wall separates him from Ava. He sits in the room and interacts with Ava. While this is going on, Nathan watches and records the interactions.
Ava, though clearly a robot, is beautiful and alluring. She is intelligent and very affable. Her conversational style is inviting and Caleb finds it easy to talk to her.
The story is told in chapters based on the interviews. In the first interview a power failure turns off the cameras. When the cameras go off, Ava looks at Caleb and tells him not to trust Nathan because Nathan tells lies.
Nathan is not your standard Internet genius. He is not nerdy but rather acts like a frat boy who drinks too much, exercises too much and seems to have more than a business relationship with his servant, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). The way he is presented to the viewer is an alpha male that clearly wants to be dominant against Caleb.
As the days pass, Caleb becomes more and more enchanted with Ava. It does not take too long for him to have deep emotional feelings for her. He comes to believe what Ava says about Nathan and believes that Nathan is a bad person.
Caleb decides he must rescue Ava. Yet there is huge problem: this estate is locked down. The only way to get out is to have the proper key card and Nathan has the only card.
Artificial intelligence here is but a storytelling device. Yes, this is science fiction, but there are no ships in space or battles on distant worlds. What makes it science fiction is the presence of Ava. All good science fiction should speak to the human condition and Ex Machina does this.
This story is about how we use people toward our own ends. It is clear that Nathan is using Caleb. Nathan manipulates Caleb to do what he wants him to do. And Nathan gets pleasure out of pushing Caleb’s buttons (no pun intended).
Ava looks to be an innocent in all of this. We learn how Nathan uses her for his own perverse pleasure. He puts on his alpha male act for her. Since she is a creature with artificial intelligence and the capacity to learn, we wonder how this kind of misuse effects her.
At the beginning of the movie, when Nathan reveals what he created, Caleb declares that Nathan is a god. Nathan responds, “I am God.” Which begs the question: Does God, who created us, manipulate us for his own amusement? It is obvious that is what Nathan does. And the results of this become clear in the end.
My father loved to quote Numbers 32:23: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Ex Machina shows us the result of the sin of manipulation and how there is collateral damage to those nearby. Sin becomes a part of the larger whole, though in the case of this movie, it’s only done by one person.
Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence
Written and directed by Alex Garland
With: Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb), Oscar Isaac (Nathan), Alicia Vikander (Ava), Sonoya Mizuno (Kyoko)