The new Star Wars flick might ruin it all again, but we’ve been spoiled of late for good, cerebral sci-fi movies.
On the heels of Moon and Under the Skin, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, opening Friday (April 24), takes another pulpy whack at the lofty subject of humanity and consciousness, this time through the story of a coding whiz pressed with determining whether or not a sexily vulnerable robot is really sentient or just a hell of a good mimic.
Garland’s script crackles with sharp insights into matters that might seem frivolous. But some would argue that we ignore “the singularity” at our peril, not to mention the insidious infiltration into our private lives of Google-esque entities bent on creating artificial intelligence, like the one depicted in the film.
“I know enough about it to know that there are people who have vastly different interpretations of the fallout, good or bad, from the singularity being reached,” says actor Domhnall Gleeson, calling the Georgia Straight from L.A. “Obviously, [futurist and author] Ray Kurzweil seems quite upbeat about the whole thing, and then you’ve got a whole raft of people on the other side. Stephen Hawking came out recently, I believe, and said he didn’t think it was the right way forward, necessarily. Not to paraphrase Stephen Hawking; it’s never a good idea to do that.”
Although Gleeson notes that the film’s writer-director falls, privately at least, on the “pro–AI” side of things, Garland’s dramatization of the issue is splendidly nuanced. As Caleb, Gleeson is flown out to the vast Alaskan compound of a Howard Hughes–like inventor (Oscar Isaac) who gets to play God thanks to his limitless wealth, attained through the design of a ubiquitous search engine. (Sound familiar?)
His creation is a winsome female robot named Ava, brought to marvellous life by Alicia Vikander and some very elegant CGI.
“There’s no way for him not to fall in love with what’s in front of him,” says Gleeson. “If you accept that she’s conscious, then the notion of keeping her locked up for study against her will is totally wrong. It’s imprisonment, and it’s cruel, and whatever she does to get out is warranted and fair.”
Gleeson is homing in on the film’s thriller elements, but what roots Ex Machina firmly in the present is its sly take on the human intelligence that singles out Caleb for the experience. Anyone who saw the doc Google and the World Brain or is otherwise dismayed by our acquiescence to online culture will get the drift—as does Gleeson himself.
“The reality is that I don’t read the terms and conditions on my iTunes contract before I click ‘Agree’,” he admits. “I sign up for all of it, and I hope that people who are my superiors in government keep proper track of it.”
And how would he rate their performance so far?
“Obviously, it’s been appalling!” he exclaims. “Have you seen Citizenfour? It’s an amazing documentary, and now we’re being listened to because I said Citizenfour while I’m talking on the phone.”
After a pause, the actor offers a cheery, if resigned: “Hello! One more listener!”