Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Ex Machina’ (2015)

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Artificial intelligence, a boon when it brews coffee and cleans the house, has its dark side. What happens if it becomes less obviously “artificial,” to the point where humans can no longer pinpoint the “otherness” of the carrier? All intelligence is Mercurial, but what happens if flesh-and-blood smarts are no longer capable of picking out a piece of technology in a lineup?

Written and directed by Alex Garland, the minimalist yet hallucinatory Ex Machina mines real-life collective fears about the renegade potential of AI, an archetypal coupling of Mercurial thinking and Uranian high-tech.

Set in the present, the story wastes no time singling out benign computer coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) as the winner of a competition at his job at search-engine company Bluebook.

To access his seven-day prize, Caleb is whisked away by helicopter to the remote area that Bluebook’s reclusive genius-founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac) calls home but which also contains a windowless research facility, the Hades-like area to which Caleb is confined.

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Nathan has been working feverishly on his latest AI project, a robotic entity called Ava. Caleb’s privileged role will be to interact with her and conduct the Turing test: if, after a week of sessions, Caleb – the human component – determines that Ava has consciousness because her robotic component is undetectable, then the test is passed. As one character says, this enterprise isn’t the history of man but, rather, the history of the gods.

What will complicate Caleb’s mission is Ava herself. She’s a soft-spoken, dazzlingly feminine entity (Alicia Vikander), part human through her visage, hands and feet, and part futuristic via her transparent circuitry. Mirroring Ava’s duality – she’s a visual hybrid of lush human beauty and technological wizardry – is the environment in which the experiment is conducted. The research building is surrounded by unbridled nature for hundreds of miles, yet the four walls are a stark post-modern gem shaved down to muted essentials, non-disclosure agreements and controls on Caleb’s and Ava’s movements.

If Caleb is the Superego good guy with a conscience, and Nathan is the control-freak Id, is Ava an Ego-like entity who, with her breathtaking grace and composure, might actually make her way, untrammeled, in the real world? To say more would involve spoilers. But Mercury’s task of doing the bidding of the gods by traveling to and from the Underworld – Nathan, Caleb and Ava all behave like winged messengers here, as well as like inhabitants of the nether regions – is a mythology that, in Garland’s hands, is suffused with cold, manipulative mental play. History of the gods, indeed. Ex Machina is a visually and intellectually intoxicating piece of work.

Archetype: Programmer. Robot. Robotic Thinker. Artificial Intelligence. Thinking Machine. Futuristic Communicator.

Astrology Archetype: ☿ ♅ (Mercury, Uranus)

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