Deus ex machina: n.noun;
(Latin: [ˈdeʊs ɛks ˈmaː.kʰɪ.naː]: /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkiːnə/ or /ˈdiːəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/; plural: dei ex machina) is a calque from Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós), meaning "god from the machine".
In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation.
An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot.
A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.
Ex Machina is a creatively effective film, evoking theological arguments for and against the affirmation that artificial intelligence in near human form is not far off in the future, using the basis of today's technology to spin a story of the existence of life beyond the human soul.
This movie deserves a smarter review than I can possibly give, so all I can really do is impose upon this summary with words that effectively convey my thoughts and feelings about what the film means as a whole, and from a film making standpoint how it achieves its victories.
*Going into this film with little to no actual knowledge of how the story will play out, or even what the film really is "about", will actually do you a service. Stop reading this review if you have actual interest in seeing it, knowing only that I recommend it extremely.*
Directed by first-timer Alex Garland, who made a name for himself as writer of the highly underrated and hugely effective Dredd and the original "zombie" film 28 Days Later, his superb Ex Machina is the kind of film that deserves long discussions about itself and its themes rather than a few paragraphs of review and thoughts by my own self. The film is a narrative success, achieving originality not by its subject matter (the notion of "what is human?' in arguments about advanced A.I. have been prominent even as far back as the "Measure of a Man" episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and more recently with the Matrix films), but rather in how it goes about getting to its point. The film manages to advance these ideas by setting the film not many years in the future, but more within grasp to contemporary "futuristic" standpoints.
The title "Ex Machina" itself will lend to many a discussion about what the film is implying, something rarely seen in films today. The film's story, circulating around three central characters, involves a Bill Gates-like technological genius named Nathan who creates a very life-like artificial human named Ava. He brings a young programmer named Caleb (why he is chosen is something of interest as the film progresses) to his secluded, subterranean lab tucked away in the beautiful green mountains of Norway (at least that's where it was filmed, but never quite implied that's where it takes place) to interview Ava using the Turing Test. If Ava passes, then Nathan can advance his programming to come ever closer to the realization of life beyond organic means.
The acting is marvelous, especially with Alicia Vikander as "Ava" and Oscar Isaac as her seemingly alcoholic creator. Considering Ava is a creation of Nathan's, it's interesting to note (in hindsight as i write this) that both characters play similar head games with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to get their thoughts across to him. What one says in light, another says the opposite in darkness. When the truths are finally told to Caleb by Ava, it's hard for him to tell who to trust - an artificial intelligence with no reference to the outside world than what she knows in her glass cage of a room, or a man whose purpose for creating the advance A.I. is quite unclear.
Ex Machina is a slow-burner, a film that takes its time but demands that you pay attention to every little detail; the names of the characters, the references to historical events (the term "Promethean" is even used), even the title itself (as said before) lend clues as to what the film is conveying with its message. To that degree, the film is very much an homage to the earlier novels of Michael Crichton (and even his film version of Westworld) in its views upon the dangers of meddling with science and robotics to further advance a technology that can overpower humanity and, per chance, render us obsolete.
What is life? Is skin and bones considered elements of life? Does the notion of a soul make us human? Will A.I. become so advanced that it will be considered "life" or equal to humans? Or, dare I say, will A.I. be considered better than humans? And is it a question of "or", or a question of "when"?
Easily one of the best films in recent years.
As Ex Machina plays out to its surprising (and somewhat heartbreaking) ending, the film gave me the feeling that it is a true precursor to events that tie into a film like James Cameron's original Terminator. Both films juggle the notions of human meddling with advanced technology to the point that it turns on us. Where Terminator shows us the war-like aftermath, Ex Machina slowly builds the terrifying notions that worldwide disaster by the hands of an artificial intelligence can begin simply with the mistakes of only two human minds.