Ex Machina is essentially the Frankenstein story with references to the philosophy of Plato, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the fairy tale ‘Bluebeard’, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s quotes, the legend of Prometheus, and the Enola Gay, among others. So yes, this is ‘thinking’ sci-fi, in which the robot at the centre of the narrative, a comely lass named Ava (Alicia Vikander) spends most of her time debating the nature of her existence with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) the young programmer who has been brought to his boss Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) research facility/home/hideout to administer the Turing test upon Ava.
What s the Turing test, you ask? Per Wikipedia, “The Turing test is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.”
Naturally Nathan is not content to simply entrust the task of testing Ava to Caleb. He has to monitor the young man’s progress. He has to ensure that certain sections of his home are not accessible to the guest. He also has to behave badly with a young woman named Kyoko(Sonoya Mizuno) who is–there is no polite way to say this–his servant, who provides some questionable services.
Before long Ava bonds with Caleb and matters reach a conclusion clearly alluded to at various earlier points in the narrative.
The achievement here is one of mood and technology. From the creepy-fabulous glass and stone facility that houses Nathan and his creation, to the soundtrack, by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, that infuses the entire movie with dread-causing tension, to the seamlessly achieved CGI fabrication of Ava’s robotic form, this movie is a visual and aural treat. The only way in which it betrays its low budget is the fact that this entire movie plays out largely as a set of conversations between no more than two characters at any given time. Make of that whatever you will. I’m glad I watched it.