Release: Friday, April 10, 2015
Written by: Alex Garland
Directed by: Alex Garland
In 21st Century filmmaking creating an original sci fi film is arguably a greater challenge than coming up with a respectable romantic comedy. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that difficult.
Somewhere out there lies a subterranean network of rooms packed to the ceiling with film reels suggesting how mankind will one day become second to machine. Alex Garland (heretofore the screenwriter of such gems as 28 Days Later and Sunshine) is in a lab tucked away deep in this unspecified facility, much like one of his characters in Ex Machina, putting to sleep the notion that humans have wreaked havoc upon themselves and maybe even deserve the downfall. The introduction of a very beautiful female A.I. named Ava (who is this Alicia Vikander again?) heralds the arrival of another profound possibility.
Ex Machina, in all its unfettered visual sexiness, suggests our giving birth to A.I. isn’t something we’ve forced, it’s the next Darwinian step, thus it isn’t exactly our fault. It’s our problem, but it isn’t our fault. We’ve been victims of our own curiosity in most of those films locked away in those rooms, but not quite like this.
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) seems to have won a weeklong trip to visit the estate of Bluebook CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), a sprawling territory of natural splendor that magnificently hides Nathan’s research facility. A talented programmer for the company, Caleb finds tension in the very first moments he shares with his host. Nathan, sporting the physical appearance of someone wanting to downplay the technological achievements he’s soon to shower his lone guest in, contradictorily behaves as every bit the prodigy-cum-superiority-complex he’s pretending not to be. Confusing? Yeah, it is a little bit to Caleb as well, as Nathan insists that he’d rather dispense of the employer-employee relationship and just become “two dudes talking about a secret project.”
Nathan has created a highly advanced robot that he has code-named Ava, and would like Caleb to test its intelligence and self-awareness. In so doing, Nathan wants Caleb to tell him how he feels about it rather than giving him a complex scientific analysis on the project. In order to assess Ava properly he uses Caleb as the human component in his version of The Turing Test, an evaluation designed to measure a computer’s level of intelligence and whether or not it equates to that of a human.
Over the course of seven sessions Caleb and Ava “get to know” one another all while being monitored by surveillance cameras. Caleb is stunned by her concept of language and her ability to not only emote but evoke emotions in him as the questions range from simple ‘ice-breakers’ to ones of a much more personal nature. An evolution of emotion over the course of these brief conversations makes it clear that despite Ex Machina‘s breathtaking android that effortlessly steals your attention every second of screen time she has, Garland’s empathies lie more with the human component.
Even Ava is more relatable than many of the more iconic droids we’ve been introduced to in many years. She doesn’t come programmed with the instinct to wipe us out like T-1000 or a Sentinel does. She’s attractive and has sexuality. She’s the product of a man who has extricated himself from the general public. On those grounds alone she’s a being with a staggering complexity about her that makes any analysis about the film surrounding her almost redundant. Like our simian cousins, this sleek robotic frame, punctuated by Vikander’s face and hands, shares many of our traits. Her humanity remains controversial, but it approaches the point where we begin to feel uncomfortable siding with one party or the other.
And therein lies the beauty of Garland’s written contribution to his film. Not only are the human characters worthy of our attention — welcome to another incredible Oscar Isaac performance — but the slow and steady build-up of tension between Ava and her environs makes for thrilling, often disconcerting viewing. It’s no Terminator, but Ex Machina‘s purgatorial trappings and extraordinary performances contribute mightily to a product of uncommonly intelligent design.
Recommendation: Nothing artificial about this film’s intelligence! For fans of stories that pull you in from minute one and refuse to let go, you’re not likely to do much better than Alex Garland’s sci-fi adventure right now. Provocative and profoundly relatable, Garland has proved himself as not just a great writer but a great filmmaker with a future ahead of him. If you like his previous work, don’t miss this. Strong direction, outstanding acting and gorgeous visuals add to one of the best films of 2015. For all these reasons and a few more, you should see it on the big screen for sure.
Running Time: 108 mins.
Quoted: “What happens to me if I fail your test?”
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