Ex Machina 2014 Movie Review
A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.
Without question, “Ex Machina” may be the most underrated of the 2015 Oscar nominees. It received two nominations: best visual effects and best original screenplay. The effects are good, and it deserves to be nominated in this category, but it might be tough to squeak by given how many films these days are effects-heavy. I wouldn’t count it out, but it’s no sure thing.
As for best original screenplay, I really hope that the voters see the brilliance in this script. There have been attempts to bring AI stories to the screen for at least fifty years, and some of them are very good. But I dare say this may well be the best. The exploration of what it means to be a person or have consciousness is done perfectly, and the issue is more important now than ever before. What was once a philosophical hypothesis is now an inevitability… like it or not, Apple, IBM and Google are nearing this goal.
What really sells the story is the discussion of prototypes. Once you create a living machine, however imperfect, can you simply take it apart without moral consequence? A parent may threaten that, “I made you, and I can end you.” But of course that is not true — the murder of a child is reprehensible. In the eyes of a god, is the destruction of a machine with feelings and dreams any less cruel? The script also excels in its references. We have Wittgenstein, Mary Shelley and Oppenheimer to name a few. There is a great use of Jackson Pollack to explain how unconscious thought works. And the deeper issues are mentioned without getting too boring or down in the weeds. Anyone interested in the philosophy or the computer science can find more at their local library — we are given just enough here to start that dialogue. (I expect this movie to be shown in ethics classes for years to come.) The question then is, if the film is underrated, what did the Academy miss? Alicia Vikander, of course. She was nominated for “The Danish Girl”, but after seeing both films, it seems clear she was more remarkable in this one. She deserved the nod for this rather than the other one, or perhaps even both. (It is not unheard of for an actor or actress to get two nominations in the same category.) I would also not be opposed to Oscar Isaac getting a supporting actor nomination, as he really made himself known.
Now, maybe I am being a bit bold here, but I think “Ex Machina” would have been a worthy contender in the best picture category. It clearly edges out some of the lesser films, notably “Brooklyn”. Maybe there was no room with the other science fiction (“Martian”) or fantasy (“Mad Max”) movies… I can understand that. The Oscars love dramas and period pieces. But I do hope just being nominated for some of the lesser awards gets this film some additional attention.