A promo poster for Alex Garland's Ex Machina.

‘Ex Machina’: a beautiful Turing test for the viewer

Deus-ex machina. I knew of this Latin phrase, but never paid close attention to it.

Then, I watched the 2015 Alex Garland-directed film Ex Machina at home and looked it up the phrase from which the movie derives its namesake as the credits rolled.

From Wikipedia:

Deus ex machina (Latin: [ˈdeʊs ɛks ˈmaː.kʰɪ.naː]/ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkiːnə/ or /ˈdiːəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/;[1] plural: dei ex machina) is a calque from Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós), meaning “god from the machine”.[2]The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.

Ex Machina. The title hints at it all. How wildly appropriate about this spartan film about a lonely, wiry IT employee (Caleb) that gets plucked to visit the isolated beautiful home and compound of the eccentric and reclusive genius CEO Nathan (played by the dazzling Oscar Issac) of his company. Unbeknownst to him, Caleb has been chosen to test the artificial intelligence of a robot built by Nathan.

The beauty of this film cannot be overstated. The aesthetic of the set—a sparely decorated modern expansive home that serves as the film’s set–feels so desolate and arresting at the same time. The score and sound design is fittingly haunting and matches the slow pace of the film and mounting tensions throughout the 108-minute duration of the motion picture as it underlines the plot of the cautionary tale about artificial intelligence. Are we headed towards singularity?

In past interviews, Issac has said that the movie is essentially a Turing test for the viewer. Are we headed towards singularity? What will happen? And is a machine capable of exhibiting intelligent behavior indistinguishable from humans what we really want? The questions are endless. What about sovereignty of choice? What is consciousness? Is someone with A.I. capable of seeing the value of human life, love and empathy? When do we draw the line from exploitation and manipulation?

The film’s lasting effects relied heavily on the machinations of the three main characters—Caleb, Nathan and the A.I. robot Ava—and the adept performances from their respective actors. All are bewitching in their examination of the relationships between humans and A.I..

The last film that had the same indelible and unnerving effects on me was from Jake Gyllenhall’s Nightcrawler movie. I rarely take the time to watch many movies these days as I’ve switched allegiance to television shows, but Ex Machina is a film well-worth the dedicated time.

Comments are closed.