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May Movie Challenge

May 28: Ex Machina |A Film Featuring a Robot or A.I. Main Character

Maximilian Rivera May 28, 2017


By Max Rivera ​| @MaxRiveraFilm

In the category of A Film Featuring a Robot or A.I. Main Character, Max chose Ex Machina (2014), written and directed by Alex Garland, starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander. 

Since its release, I’ve heard nothing but great stuff about Ex Machina. But what really interested me in watching the film was a twitter account where they post videos of an iconic dance scene from Ex Machina dubbed to different music every time. It’s funny, but also made me stop and think — that’s a weird movie, I should watch it.

Slap that on top of everyone I know telling me to watch it, I knew it had to be my AI choice.

After watching it, I think it’s clear that Ex Machina uses tension, doubt, and ethical questions to create a compelling and uneasy story that captures the wonder and dangers of artificial intelligence. It’s really good filmmaking, and manages to work in a rather disturbing ending.

The basic premise is that Caleb, a young programmer at a Google-esque tech giant wins a raffle to go on a retreat at reclusive CEO’s estate. Here he quickly learns that he’s actually going to help Nathan, the CEO, implement a Turing Test on an artificially intelligent robot he created named Ava. The test basically is to see if the consciousness can pass for human — that is, that the human element not only doesn’t realize the subject isn’t a human, but that the subject explicitly is artificial yet is treated like a human.

The film works us through each of these tests, starting with a very surface level test and pushing forward until Caleb starts to question his own reality.

It’s tense, and a lot of the movie keeps you wondering what is happening behind the scenes. Nathan never seems sincere or trustworthy, yet he starts out as a cool dude — if not rough around the edges. Caleb is a nerd who is wonderstruck, and slowly he comes out of his shell. He has a better time with Ava than Nathan, and eventually Ava starts to find ways to secretly communicate with Caleb.

From here, our story makes us wonder — is Nathan as bad as Ava says? Is Ava sincere? How far gone is Caleb? This all comes together in a thrilling climax that is both exhilarating and can leave you with a sickened sense of fear.


​But the most important questions here are about autonomy and agency. Once an artificially intelligent being comes into play, what ethical rules do we play by? If we are implementing a consciousness test on something being held in captivity, do we not then become imprisoners? If an artificial person was designed simply to attract another person, how much agency do both people have in their interactions?

There are tons of ethical questions forming from this film, which is what it does best. You’re not meant to have these answers ready, because the characters never get to the majority of them. They stick with you and they form in your brain, making it harder to navigate the subject matter.

The moment Ava became an aware person, she also became an imprisoned person, as well as a threat to humanity. By assisting in the test, Caleb became collateral damage to her escape mission.

I do have a few small issues with the film — it’s never explicitly stated that Ava can charge on any induction plates, and if this technology is spread throughout the world already. She’s a beautiful girl, but when it comes time to travel and get around, how resourceful will she be in getting around? I guess since her brain is a giant Google, she’ll be fine, but that could have been telegraphed more.

And while I get why Caleb gets left behind — and I prefer the fact that she used him to escape — I would have liked to see him survive, or at least receive a hint that he would. That doesn’t deter from the film for me, dude just had a hard time.

Grade: A

Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.

Max is a marketing copywriter by day, filmmaker and screenwriter by night. He resides in Charlotte, NC, and loves his dogs, watching movies, building LEGO sets, and eating food. Lots of food.You can find Max at his personal website and twitter.