Sunday, 3 May 2015

Movie Review: Ex Machina

A Latin expression meaning “out of the machine”. What is consciousness? What defines our thinking? What is the line between a bunch of cogs and wheels, circuits and resistors, and sentience, the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively? Big questions in a small film.

In a nutshell – no real spoilers here – rich eccentric genius creates A.I., Artificial Intelligence. He gives his creation the form of a female called Ava. He hires a young man to give his invention a Turing test to prove if it is capable of independent thought. For those not in the know, The Turing test, proposed by Alan Turing, British computer scientist, involves a person interacting with a computer hidden from view. If the person can’t tell it’s a machine, the machine passes the test. In my blog posting Alan Turing, my Commodore 64, and a trip down memory lane (July 12/2012), I discuss the program ELIZA on my first computer, a Commodore 64, and how it is possible to trick people into believing they are talking to a smart computer, when in reality, it is merely a trick. That was 1982 and the simple coding was written in the BASIC programming language Nowadays, we have SIRI, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant, and although not perfect by a long shot, shows the great strides made in this area of computer development. Sometimes “the trick” doesn’t seem like a trick anymore. Is that a computer behind the curtain?

The idea of a robot, or I should say android, a robot with a human appearance, is not new, but is probably most familiar to many people as the character Data on Star Trek: Next Generation. It was the on-going question during the series as to whether Data was actually alive. Was he another type of intelligent life form? The trick with Data, and the trick here, is to give A.I. a human form. If the purpose is to fool us into believing the machine is alive, giving it such an appearance goes a long way in making us believe.

I did have to chuckle at the idea of making the android female. Are we going for the titillation factor here? Is the sexualisation of our test subject another means of making the tester believe the A.I. is, in fact, thinking? Nothing like our hormones to cloud our minds. And this is a spoiler, the movie leads us to believe the rich eccentric genius has been having sex with his robots. I am reminded of a scene from the 2001 Spielberg film A. I. Artificial Intelligence when Jude Law, playing Joe the Gigolo, a mecha (advanced humanoid capable of emulating thoughts and emotions), is hired by a woman for a love session. When the woman hesitates, apprehensive of such a meeting, Joe states, “Patricia, once you’ve had a lover robot, you’ll never want a real man again.” (YouTube: A.I. -- Gigolo Joe) We’re a long way from there, but I have no doubt the sex industry will be part of the impetus for such development.

As an aside, whenever the question of A.I. comes up, we end up back at the age-old concept: an android. This artificial intelligence comes in the form of a human being. Think of Star Trek’s Data, or Blade Runner, or the Spielberg film. In the 2013 film "her" (my review), the super duper computer Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, remains a disembodied voice. (Samantha = SIRI on steroids) Unless there is some miracle breakthrough like a positronic brain, I’m guessing the future of A. I. is going to remain as a large computer possibly taking up a room or rooms of space.

Small vs Large
The latest Avengers film (my review) clocked in with a budget of $250 million, a quarter of a billion dollars and a rating on Rotten Tomatoes of 75%. This cinematic science fiction needed a mere $16.4 million to make it to the screen and achieve 91%. Seven percent of the budget to garner a twenty percent higher rating. Quantity doesn’t always equate to quality, but taste is something else. The Avengers at the end of its first weekend seems to have taken in three times its costs while Ex Machina after three weeks has earned slightly more than its costs. A profit but a pittance in comparison to the Marvel Universe juggernaut.

Final Word
I enjoyed it, but admittedly, this is a thought-provoking type of film. While the Avengers is eye candy, your weekend feast of empty calories, Ex Machina makes us reflect. I doubt you’ll be talking about Ultron next week, but you will be thinking about Ava.


Rotten Tomatoes: Ex Machina: 91%
Ex Machina leans heavier on ideas than effects, but it's still a visually polished piece of work -- and an uncommonly engaging sci-fi feature.

Wikipedia: Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a 2015 British science fiction thriller film written and directed by author and screenwriter Alex Garland, making his directorial debut.


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