“You shouldn’t trust him, you shouldn’t trust anything he says”Review by Lily Taylor
I had to sleep on this one before I felt ready to review it, not because I doubted whether it was a good film but because I wasn’t sure how to interpret who plays the roles of good and evil. I’ll give you a brief run down of the plot, definite SPOILER ALERT!
Domhnall Gleeson plays a programmer who wins a competition to spend a week with his companies CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), in his isolated, luxurious and tech-filled home.
Realistically, it’s not a home at all, it’s a research facility and an electronic pass dictates where Caleb is able to go and what he is able to do, no phone access for example. Nathan tells Caleb he has created a robot by the name of Ava (Alicia Vikander) that possesses artificial intelligence. The reason Nathan invited Caleb to the facility is so that he can administer the Turing Test to Ava and determine whether she is truly self-aware and capable if independent thought.
Ava and Caleb begin to develop a relationship during their sessions together. She is confined within the facility and has never seen the outside world but would like to see it on ‘a date’ with Caleb. Ava causes power outages so that the CCTV cuts out, during which she warns Caleb that all is not what it seems with Nathan and that he is not to be trusted.
Nathan becomes an increasingly sinister character. He clearly has an alcohol problem and is a major narcissist who seems to have quite the temper. He has a single servant at the facility called Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) who is supposedly unable to speak English. Caleb is tipped off to his dark side when Kyoko accidentally spills a drink and Nathan is overly irate and abusive towards her, CCTV footage also reveals him being antagonistic towards Ava. During another power outage, Caleb makes a plan to steal an intoxicated Nathan’s key card and escape with Ava to avoid her consciousness being deleted and upgraded.
With full access to Nathan’s computer system by way of his key card, Caleb stumbles upon footage of Nathan interacting with previous AI model in some really messed up ways, like super messed up ways- you sick freak Nathan. Caleb and Ava’s plan to make their escape doesn’t go to plan and the suspense is really ratcheted up in the last few scenes leading to what I thought, was a pretty controversial ending.
This film has four characters, only three of which speak, and is set in one location and my god does that help make you feel trapped and isolated. Couple that with Nathan’s increasingly hostile and sinister behaviour and the viewer sympathises with Caleb’s cabin fever. I did find my self questioning why anyone would choose to have such ominous red back up lighting in the event of a power outage… wouldn’t be my first choice. The film won The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and I can see why. Ava has a human face, hands and feet but a robotic body and the visual effects are impressive to say the least.
I think the viewer is supposed to sympathise with Ava being sentient and trapped by a malicious creator and that we’re all supposed to condemn Nathan as an alky with a God complex. In my opinion, the roles of good and evil are in fact the other way around; by the end of the film I saw Caleb as the bad guy and Nathan as a victim. Despite their sentience, Nathan treated the AI’s as robots, as lines of code, not an actual a crime. Whereas Caleb allows a billion dollar AI to escape into society and he’s basically an accessory to murder, nice one Caleb.
My favourite scene in the film was when a drunk Nathan and Kyoko tear up the dance floor with a groovy choreographed disco routine. Usually this would be hilarious but Oscar Isaac has built up such an unpredictable character that the dance feels borderline menacing. There were a couple of scenes that weren’t polished, for example Caleb shaves and wipes his face and in the next scene he has shaving foam on his jaw again, just little inconsistencies. Plus, Ava walks on grass in 5 inch stilettos without sinking into the mud- bitch please! Overall ‘Ex-Machina’ is a swell little sci-fi film and the idea that AI is in our societies not so distant future feels almost prophetic.