One of the buzziest sci-fi flicks of the year is opening this weekend in limited release, and here’s how writer-director Alex Garland came up with the idea for his creepy-smart AI thriller Ex Machina.
The film marks Garland’s (Dredd, 28 Days Later) directorial debut, and follows a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is tasked with evaluating the mysterious humanoid artificial intelligence Ava (Alicia Vikander). Early trailers have looked fascinating and atmospheric, while initial reviews have been largely positive about the big ideas proposed by the story. The concept art is also stellar.
But where did Garland come up with the idea? Turns out the genesis of Ex Machina dates back decades and includes a weird mix of basic computer programming and conversations about humanity and being. Of course, this being Garland, he filtered all those big ideas through the lens of a creepy thriller with an unsettlingly sexy robot.
Here’s how he explained the genesis of the project in a lengthy interview with HitFix:
"Three things. When I was 12, [I was coding in the most basic way in the basic language], in a very sort of ultra-simplistic way making it talk so it could do a little routine. 'Hello, how are you. I’m fine. What’s the weather like.' So, very limited but it would give you this weird feeling like it’s alive essentially, you know. And then years later a good friend of mine, his thing is neuroscience and he comes from a position that says machines can’t be sensitive for various reasons. There’s something we don’t understand about consciousness, our consciousness. When we do understand it we’ll see that it precludes the idea that a machine can be conscious and it’s a very reasonable argument which a lot of people believe and it has strong sort of…
And that’s not a niche position at all. Nor is it a religious position. I mean it is an absolutely kind of well-argued scientifically unphilosophical position, but it didn’t feel right to me. And really because I used to argue against him and be left behind by his literal expertise, I just started reading about it and I read and read and read and another friend of mine who knew that I was sort of getting fixated on the subject matter gave me a book by a guy called Murray Shanahan, a professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial which is like our version of MIT. And I started reading the book while we were in prep on Dredd out in South Africa and it really had an impact and it sort of consolidated some of the things I’d been thinking about. [It]sort of answered some of the questions that kept buzzing around my head. And the story for this film just kind of arrived. I wrote it very, very quickly, just a smashed out thing, a way too short piece of shit. You could never film it, but it gets it down [on paper]. And then we made 'Dredd.' At the tail end of that whole thing, I handed it over and then thought, 'Alright, now I’m going to try and get stuck into this' and that was it."
Ex Machina opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, with a wider rollout (hopefully) coming soon. Do you plan on checking it out?