Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
|Featuring:||Alicia Vikander … Ava
Domhnall Gleeson … Caleb
Oscar Isaac … Nathan
Sonoya Mizuno … Kyoko
Chelsea Li … Office girl
Evie Wray … Secretary
Corey Johnson … Helicopter Pilot
Symara A. Templeman … Jasmine
Deborah Rosan … Office Manager
Elina Alminas … Amber
Claire Selby … Lily
Ramzan Miah … Secretary
Johanna Thea … Office Worker
The film’s title is pronounced ex mock-in-uh.
Critics have been calling “Ex Machina” a “cerebral movie,” but that is an oxymoron. Movies by their very nature are visual, not intellectual. They are about entertainment. Too often, when a movie tries to be cerebral, it becomes a boring movie full of people talking incessantly. “Ex Machina” is a film which tries to be both. It tries to be both cerebral and entertaining. Some claim that it has succeeded, but those of us who believe that man was created unique by God will not.
“Ex Machina” is about Artificial Intelligence. It asks whether man can create a robot that is more real than humans. In short, can man “create” artificial life. The very question itself assumes that man has no real soul. Indeed, atheist Isaac Asimov first popularized the notion of a human robot with the idea that “I think, therefore I am,” but is there more to being human than thinking? Are we more than evolved animals? These questions are not even asked by the film, although they underlie its very premise.
In the film, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a computer programmer who “wins” a free week with a master computer engineer and millionaire owner of his company, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). The real reason for his visit, however, is that Nathan needs an “objective” opinion to determine whether or not he has created the world’s first true A.I.
Caleb is then introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander—“Seventh Son”), an android with a perfect human-looking face, and an hourglass figure. It does not take long before Ava begins to act as if she is in love with Caleb, but he starts to wonder if she is really capable of love or if she is just pretending to love him in order to pass the A.I. test. Was she programmed to emulate love, or is she truly in love.
It becomes apparent that Caleb was not chosen at random, but rather that he was chosen because he is a lonely geek who has no women of his own. Soon, we begin to wonder who is being manipulated, and even Caleb begins to question his own identity.
This is a film which is impossible to review without spoilers. Since there are few major spoilers in the film, I feel this is safe, but the reader may choose to skip to the summary section if they wish…
The first thing to note about the film is that it based on a secular presupposition—namely, that man’s soul is nothing more than an intelligent brain programmed by society, culture, or other factors. The concept of a divinely created soul is never mentioned in the film, but one thing I did notice is that Caleb is drawn to Ava’s apparent capability to love. Indeed, only a true soul is capable of true love, but is Ava just pretending to love? The answer appears at the end of the film, and herein lies the spoiler.
Ava wants to escape from her captor, who is also her creator. It becomes clear that Nathan is a perverted narcissist and Ava wants to live. She has been playing Caleb to get her freedom, but when she is free she promptly murders Nathan and leaves Caleb to die after cutting power to a sealed room he is in. Caleb was just a tool. Ava is incapable of love. At least this is what I read into the film. It is not clear, however, whether or not the writer believes this. Throughout the film, he seems to imply that independent thought is the basis for life and a true A.I. More disturbing are the underlying sexual themes.
Ava’s creator is the narcissistic megalomaniac Nathan. He fancies himself a “god” but behaves like a teenage boy. It is apparent that his androids are built in large part to satisfy his sexual perversions… and he makes it clear that they have been programmed for sex. The Freudian overtones in the film are overt and ignore the true purpose for sex and sexuality as created by God. Sex, like love, is a tool for both Ava and Nathan.
The film itself is well made and manages to keep the audience’s interest, despite its long “talkie” or “cerebral” nature. Although the plot twists are largely predictable to science fiction aficionados, they are well done and effective. What is not, however, is the fact that the film is predictable, Freudian, and thoroughly secular, despite what is inherently a religious topic—the true nature of life itself.
Comparison’s to Frankenstein are warranted, including its Luciferic subplot, but, unlike Frankenstein, “Ex Machina” never captured my imagination. We are left staring at a sexually charged android through glass, wondering if she is really in love. By the time we find out, we already knew.
The most obvious is the overt sexual nature of the film. Full frontal nudity, including the strange fad of shaving private areas, is seen in many scenes, as Nathan’s android collection is revealed. Although there is no sex on screen, sex, devoid of love or marriage, is put on display. In one scene, Nathan asks Caleb, “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” Ironically, he implies that sexuality is not genetic (and no definite evidence has ever existed that homosexuality is genetic), but he then proceeds to promote the popular myth that bisexuality is the norm and that “society” programs our sexuality. Such false and perverse teachings, contrary to everything nature teaches us, only serves to illustrate the cold unfeeling approach to sex which the film promotes.
There is a lot of foul language in the film, much of it sexual in nature. I could not count the number of words, and don’t usually try, but they are plentiful, including the f-word, c-word, and many others.
Also, apparent is violence. While there are only a few violent scenes, they are done in a disturbing manner. In one scene, Caleb starts to suspect his own humanity and cuts open his wrist to see if he is real. The more violent scene is the murder of Nathan. Although not done in a gory fashion, it is the cold and brutal manner that makes the scene disturbing.
The film is not only blasphemous in its general vein, but Nathan himself calls himself a god, believing that he has created a being greater than man.
“Ex Machina” is a low brow Frankenstein, rewritten for the era of computers and the mythical notion of “Artificial Intelligence.” It borrows some Biblical imagery, such as Ava’s name (Ava is a different Anglicization of Eve), but ignores religion altogether. It is a purely secular Darwinistic view of life. The film seems to argue that man can create life which is superior to himself. It is also indwelled with an overt Freudian theme that makes sex nothing more than an animal instinct to be used for selfish gratification. People, and machines, are tools to be used.
I cannot recommend this film. While technically well made, it is slow paced, predictable, immoral, and somewhat blasphemous. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the film is the bleakness which atheism and a purely secular view of life creates. If you see this film, you will likely leave the theater feeling spiritually empty and drained.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy—“Jesus Christ” (2), OMG (2), damn (2), f-words (25+), s-words (5) / Sex/Nudity: Extreme
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
…a creation story, except instead of God repurposing a rib, the story here involves a Supreme Being who has built an A.I., using a fortune he’s made from a search engine called Blue Book…
—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
…Eerie …slow… A melange of cerebral Stanley Kubrick-style sci-fi and adolescent fantasy about sexy robot chicks, “Ex Machina” offers plenty of intriguing style but a spotty story line. … [2½/4]
—Kyle Smith, New York Post
…Smart sci-fi …although “Ex Machina” is small and talky—it has just four characters, and the only action comes at the end—it also looks good. The set direction is interesting and evocative. The effects impress but don't overwhelm. …
—Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)
…feels a bit like a decent short story bulked out to movie length, but it’s done with confidence …an elegant but limited artificial intelligence thriller… [3/5]
—Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)
…Unnerving consideration of artificial intelligence …Shrewdly imagined and persuasively made… Vikander is trained as a ballerina, so she's capable of unsettlingly precise movements that convincingly position her as a combination of human and machine. …
—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
…well played… Stylish, elegant, tense, cerebral, satirical and creepy…
—Dan Jolin, Empire [UK]