In this, the vision of Alex Garland, writer of the exemplary neo-zombie effort, 28 Days Later, programmer Caleb — a kind of James Damore type — also toils away for a global search engine juggernaut. (And speaking of Damore, the #GoogleMemo author recently Tweeted, “Just as foods are labelled “non-GMO”, I wonder if future products will be labelled “non-AI”?)
Caleb wins a one-week stint at the home of his boss, tech jag-off, Nathan, in a secluded modernist Xanadu that’s more of a Xana-don’t when it comes to poking around its various rooms.
It’s there Caleb learns of his assignment: he has to put a pretty robot (Ava) to the Turing Test to see if her thinking behaviour can be differentiated from that of a human. She’s confined to one room of the sprawling home, let out periodically from her confines.
The duo exchange stilted banter at first, the stuff of any real world first date. Soon, sparks fly, metaphorically speaking (they would’ve literally too, if Ava’s engineering wasn’t so darn advanced). Soon, Caleb and Ava are having tête-à-têtes away from Nathan’s prying eyes and Panopticon surveillance.
Are they star-crossed lovers, bridging the human / cyborg divide? Who’s the real automaton?
That’s when the fireworks really begin, as Ex Machina leaps between love story and a cat and mouse between hard-drinking big boss and subservient employee, the latter as riveting as the surreal back and forth between the autocratic director and The Stuntman in that dynamite Peter O’Toole/Steve Railsback-starrer.
Alicia Vikander as Ava is dazzling in the lead, the one time a performance can be described as mechanical and that be a good thing. Her cast-mates more than equal her.
Ex Machina dangles the odd telegraphs here and there, then pulls the rug right out from under the viewer. Stark, unrelenting, thought-provoking, this is top-notch stuff.
****1/2 (out of 5)