Alex Garland, writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller, Ex Machina. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test – charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated, seductive–and more deceptive–than the two men could have imagined. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
Technology has been proven time and time again to be a double-edged sword.
A veritable Peter and Paul of progress, it has both the ability to give us efficiency, increased leisure time, ease of access to services, untold entertainment riches, medical advances, and even a new romantic partner, should we desire one.
However, as anyone who has found themselves slumped in bed at midnight on a weeknight checking emails or compulsively flicking their fingers up and down their Twitter timeline will attest, it also has the proven capability to take away, robbing us of present time with family and friends, sleep, privacy, the just-awarded leisure time, a sense of contentment and true relaxation.
And they’re the relatively benign drawbacks.
If you are to believe the Terminator franchise or Battlestar Galactica, it could mean our complete and utter enslavement to machines who, seeing us as little more than bugs, casually exterminate with little thought or emotional consequence.
It gives and it takes away, a thesis that Ex Machina, the latest highly-nuanced offering from talented screenwriter Alex Garland, whose previous films have demonstrated a gift for examining issues such as the increasing role of technology in our lives with considered thought and an awareness of the fallible way humanity always approaches these advances.
Typically a new technology is first heralded as the saviour of humanity, the harbinger of a just, peaceful and endlessly prosperous society; this utopian hype, this loudly-proclaimed ideal however often falls prey in quick succession to the realisation that there are negative consequences to its use, and it takes us some time to work out how to use it most effectively without suffering any ill-affects.
The trailer for Ex Machina, which marks Garland’s first foray into movie directing, seems to encapsulate this entire arc into its short running time, with protagonist Caleb Smith moving from wide-eyed wonder to concern to outright alarm in short order, mirroring the usual march of a new technology through society.
Given this has come from the gifted hand of Alex Garland, it’s unlikely the film will devolve into a nightmarish shoot-em-up, run-and-hide action thriller of dubious merit, and indeed an earlier synopsis, cited by SlashFilm, indicates it’s going to be quite a bit smarter than that, “an intense psychological thriller” [that deals with] “big ideas about the nature of consciousness, emotion, sexuality, truth and lies.”
It sounds and looks like a serious consideration of what a technology can mean for humanity who, with the rapid advance of technological progress is increasingly having to grapple with issues far more complex than a simple consideration about whether answering emails at 3 am is a good idea or not.
Cleverly the trailer stops just short of indicating just where Caleb’s exploration of Ava leads him and hence humanity as a whole and we will have to wait till Ex Machina opens in Australia on 5 March 2015 and in USA on 10 April to see where it all leads.