If you think of a night at the movies as a chance for escapist fantasy, then you may want to think twice before screening Alex Garland's Ex Machina.
On the other hand, if you're thinking about the power of tech giants like Google GOOGL +1.65%, the recent revelations of Edward Snowden, the uneasy relationship between the telcos and government and the emerging power of big data when tied to ever smarter machines -- then Ex Machina is a must see.
At an impromptu Q&A at the AMC Lincoln Square Cinemas showing of Garland's robot creature feature, the director was clear about his politics regarding a myriad of sticky issues. Asked if his film inherently endorsed Ray Kurzweil's coming Singularity, Garland was dismissive. "I don't have any idea how he's come up with his dates or numbers," he said of Kurzweil's futuristic promise that man and machine will merge in the year 2045.
In Ex Machina, Caleb Smith is a programmer at an Internet search giant called Blue Book, which sounds much like Google. The company's CEO, Nathan Bateman, has retired to a reclusive island to build his "moon shot" project under a cloak of secrecy. Caleb is invited to spend a week with the CEO. Once he's dropped by helicopter into the jungle, he learns that he has been chosen to be the human component in a Turing Test. Does the CEO's newest humanoid robot have the skills to be considered a sentient being?
The robot is a female shaped creation named Ava. She's not overtly sexual. She has lights and wires and no human parts, but she is at the same time strangely erotic. Ex Machina is, on one hand, science fiction, but it is also completely possible. Reviewers have called the film "unnerving," and that's certainly spot on.
Garland is hardly a newcomer to the complexity of putting personal ideas into the public domain. His first novel The Beach was published in 1996, and as he explained, it was meant to be a criticism of the backpacker culture in Thailand. But quickly, his work was embraced as an endorsement of a young backpacker's search for a legendary, idyllic and isolated beach untouched by tourism. Today, Garland says that wasn't the books' message.
He wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. His third novel, The Coma, was published in 2004. He wrote the screenplay for Never Let Me Go, and also wrote the script for the adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic book from 2000 AD.
So Garland is an author first. This is his first directorial effort, and he's quick not to claim credit for the work of his collaborators. Of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who played Ava, Garland says he didn't have to coax a performance out of her. "She was a classically trained ballerina, and she didn't want to play a robot as a mechanical thing. She wanted Ava to be human, just in a very literal way." And for the look of the film again Garland credits Director of Photography Rob Hardy for the way he brings Nathan's lab and retreat and its surrounding beauty to life.
A few more Q&A tidbits from the screening: He said that while he's worried about government intrusion into privacy, he worries more about companies like Google because, "We can vote governments out of office, but we can't elect someone to replace Google." Of Edward Snowden, it won't surprise you to learn he's a fan. And despite the film's overall sexuality and nudity -- Garland says he thinks of the film as feminist in its overall point of view. Others may disagree, but Garland says the camera's view of the naked forms of the AI robots is artistic, not meant to be sexual.
No matter what you think about Garland's personal views, his clear effort to make the film both socially and scientifically relevant makes Ex Machina a film that is likely to join the pantheon of sci-fi films that will haunt our fast-moving and robotic world ahead.
Check out the trailer -- and enjoy the tagline.