101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

“We don’t understand how our cellphones and our laptops work,” Alex Garland told NPR in 2015, “but those things seem to understand a lot about us.” Long fascinated by society’s relationship with machines generally, and artificial intelligence specifically, Garland weaves a story around sentient robot Ava. Although what ensues is nominally a thriller, Ex Machina is fundamentally a meditation on consciousness. Evoking earlier thought exercises by Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick, and Mary Shelley, as well as the work of futurists and philosophers, Garland asks whether AI is a threat, an evolution, an improvement—or all of the above. His script also puts forth the disquieting notion that mankind’s infatuation with technology long ago opened dangerous doors that can never be closed. Recall the full title of Shelley’s influential masterpiece—Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus—while considering how Garland’s script updates Shelley for the digital age.