Ex Machina’s sensitive robot: More human than us?

Alicia Vikander plays the female robot, Ava.
Alicia Vikander plays a  female robot, named Ava.

Ex Machina’s femme robot, Ava, is captivating and thoughtful. Could it be, she’s more human than we are?

At the onset of the film we meet Caleb, a young coder, somewhat naive though witty. He uses the language of a seasoned programmer to form elaborate conclusions yet ignores basic human instinct. After winning a competition he gets flown to a secluded research facility in the middle of a forest. His sole job—give the Turing Test to a functional humanoid with Artificial Intelligence, named Ava.

The creator of this humanoid is Nathan, a straight forward, CEO-genius-programmer, with an appetite for alcohol and secrecy. He’s not interested in the technicality of the test like his guest, Caleb, instead tries to discover human frailties. Nathan has carefully orchestrated a plan for Caleb, but on the surface calls himself “a friend.” The interactions between Caleb and Nathan are amusing to watch, since one is without malice, functioning structurally, and the other is functioning instinctively as a snake.

Upon meeting Ava, Caleb — and I imagine everyone else in the audience, was pleasantly captivated. Ava has the ethereal face of a young girl, skin on her hands and feet but the rest of her body is that of a cyborg. She moves delicately across with soft agility and purpose. As she turns or walks her interior wires make noises . The fluidity of her words are alluring, chosen carefully for the viewer. I get the feeling she’s just toying with us all.

Photo: www.digitalspy.com
Photo: http://www.digitalspy.com

The concept of Alex Garland’ s film is thrilling. Watching a human investigate a robot and vice versa is transcendent, similarly the questions that ensue between Caleb and Nathan. Does Ava know she’s playing chess or is she just following the rules? Does she have feelings? Do you need human interaction to determine consciousness?

It forces us to question our own understanding of what it means to be human: a kind of study into our own psyche within the walls of a futuristic research facility controlled by buttons and a central computer. It’s one of those eerie and claustrophobic places you can’t freely move from room to room.

Photos: images.exmachinafilm.com
Nathan showing Caleb “the brain” of a robot. Photo: http://www.images.exmachinafilm.com

Garland’s film is not without misses. Formulaic dialogue runs rampant in the beginning. Though some reviews claim  the whole film falls into a predictable laundry bin. I wouldn’t go that far. The tale of a single man meeting a sexy femme bot is a gimmick at face value, and problematic for an accurate Turing Test, since the tester has a clear bias.  The dynamic between Caleb and Ava is tricky, often running into irksome territory.  There are other scenes in this laundry bin, but I leave those for you to decipher (since I don’t want spoil all the fun).

As the movie progresses it becomes suspenseful, gaining speed once Nathan reveals the outer edges of his mind, as well as Ava’s. The film overall is studied, analytical and profound at times. I wonder if this movie isn’t so much a test for the robot, but for the humans involved in performing the test. We are walking around with consciousness after all, and it’s our responsibility to curve our unruly emotions and be objective.

Walking out of the theater after watching Ex Machina, I had the kind of thoughts you get when looking in front a mirror. Who am I? A robot with fake skin walking around, or a real person with feelings and morals?

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