Some time in the near future, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young IT expert, wins a prize: a week with his company's legendary and reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his remote summer estate in the mountains. When he arrives, he discovers that Nathan, who lives alone except for a silent young woman (Sonoya Mizuno) has a task for him: to test his latest AI, a humanoid robot called Ava (Alicia Vikander, in a compelling performance) in order to assess whether or not she would pass the "Turing Test", and convince anyone questioning her that she could be human. But neither man is aware that Ava has her own agenda.
That's about as much as I can say without giving away too much of the plot. Ex Machina is a very stylish, quiet and slow-paced film, consisting mostly of conversations. The only CGI in evidence is that which makes Ava's body seem transparent and artificial. These are not criticisms – it makes a pleasant change to watch a film made for adults, with an intelligent script gradually developing the tension between the four individuals until the storm breaks in the climax. It is a very atmospheric film, emphasised by a claustrophobic basement setting. Perhaps most important of all, it is thought-provoking, raising questions which may become all too urgent if the progress which some predict for Artificial Intelligence actually takes place. How would robots with human-level intelligence regard their makers? What agendas might they have? Will they be controllable? Is such a degree of intelligence actually compatible with imposing Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics (below)?
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The message that I took away from the film was that true intelligence requires free will; and that such AIs might act in ways entirely unplanned by their makers. This is an excellent film – all credit to the British writer/director Alex Garland – which should be seen by anyone with an interest in what the future might mean, or who just enjoys good drama.