Movie Review: Ex Machina (2014)

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A movie about whether we can love and be loved by artificial intelligence 

Partha Protim Barua

When it comes to movies about the rise of artificial intelligence, we mostly think about movies like Terminator or I, Robot that show a possibility of a future where machines may take over the world through sheer force and superiority. That has become kind of a repetitive storyline now and it’s a narrow view on how we see artificial intelligence dominating the world. However, Ex Machina is a movie that shows a completely different side of artificial intelligence; a more humane side.

The movie starts with programmer Caleb Smith, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who works for the dominant search engine company Blue Book. Luckily, he wins an office contest for a one-week visit to the luxurious and isolated home of the CEO Nathan Bateman, played by Oscar Isaac. His house is everything that you would imagine a house in our time to be, with all the ultra-modern features. Nathan, who is an eccentric genius and also a bit of a crazy kind of guy, introduces Caleb to Kyoko, a human servant who apparently can’t speak English. Later, Nathan reveals to Caleb that he has built a female humanoid robot named Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, with artificial intelligence, and he wants to find out if she possesses true human level intelligence, thought, and consciousness while being aware that she is, in fact, an AI.


This movie touches a lot of subjects about what it means to be human and how actual AI can be like humans. Ava is an android but she has a beautiful human face and a voice, alongside a robotic body structure representing the female form. Interestingly enough, the personality that Ava shows to Caleb actually attracts him at a very emotional level. Through the superb acting of Alicia Vikander, that human emotion is visible through and through. That behaviour is what attracts Caleb so much that he falls in love with her. And it’s not surprising at all.

In our current world, especially in first world countries, there’s a remarkable lack of human attachment. People, unfortunately, can’t find a proper connection with other humans, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship. There’s a lot of distrust, demands, and not enough effort. That’s why people become more attached to fictional characters than actual human beings. If we can have such attachment to an imaginary character, then why not an AI who can show actual emotions? It’s not all about sexual desire because in the movie, the love that Caleb has for Ava is beyond that. In fact, one might even say it was true love. Owing to Ava’s graceful feminine features, a sexual appeal is present, however. Ava’s character is everything that Caleb loves. There is a pretext to that as well which you would find watching the movie.

Being Ava’s creator, Nathan wanted to find out the extent of Ava’s human intelligence and throughout the movie, the dialogue and interaction between Ava and Caleb show the extent of her consciousness beautifully. Interestingly, Nathan’s servant Kyoko isn’t human either. She’s an android, though not as intelligent as Ava. Nathan actually enjoys her company, but in a more twisted and deranged way. This reveals two sides of the same coin. A very abusive relationship and a very admirable relationship — half of each with an AI android.

However the question remains — can AI love us as well? After all, true AI should have the intelligence to choose to love us, have compassion for us. Here’s the thing, being human isn’t only about loving another human. Being human also means rage, anger, manipulation, and greed. True AI should also possess those qualities to be on par with humans. This movie masterfully sheds light on all these questions.

Ex Machina has an interesting take on the more unique AI questions. If you are interested in the emotional capabilities of AI, then this movie will take you on a ride with twists and turns. It’s a solid 9/10 movie for me because I enjoyed the plot, the acting, and the pacing of the movie.

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