The Turing test, which was created by Alan Turing back in 1950, is used to determine whether, after a series of questions, the questioner can tell whether they've been speaking with a human or computer. But how would such a test apply, with all the advances in technology, to artificial intelligence? Ex Machina explores this with a mixing of technology, personalities, and duplicity.
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer for Bluebook, the world's most popular search engine. He wins a company lottery and heads for a week-long trip at the mountain retreat of company CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Nathan gives Caleb a key card that opens certain doors (but not all) in the home, insists that Caleb treat him like a regular guy, and has cameras and monitors throughout the entire house. Nathan also gets drunk a lot, "remembers" things in a self-aggrandizing way, and has a servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) who doesn't speak English and seems to be there to serve Nathan's sexist whims. But Nathan's big reason for bringing Caleb is seemingly simple: Caleb has created an android, and he wants Caleb to question the android to see if it actually has artificial intelligence.
The android is Ava (Alicia Vikander), who has spent her whole life in a single room with glass walls. Ava and Caleb seem to immediately hit it off. She's also been causing the power outages in the home, and during those times she and Caleb aren't being watched, she warns him not to trust anything Nathan says -- and starts flirting with Caleb, including putting on her clothes and wig to look fully human. But is Nathan misleading Caleb, or is Ava? What is Caleb's own agenda? And what about Kyoko?
Were it not for a couple of scenes with extras, Ex Machina could easily be a modern play, focused almost totally on the four main characters, almost all in the same rooms. And it all works quite well. The actors all do very well with their parts, from Alicia giving Ava a blend of naive innocence and calculated planning to Oscar's boss who pretends to be a regular guy while constantly making it clear who's in charge and what he wants. The visuals support the story perfectly, from Ava's combination of sexuality and machinery to the sterile, reflecting-glass environment of Nathan's created home. Ex Machina is intriguing and quite dramatic.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch