“Why is it up to anyone?”
It must be tiring to make a film about technological advancements. How far can we actually go until we exhaust every possible idea, when there are no further conceptual hypotheses to be made? When just about everything besides teleportation or time travel or rebirth seems within reach, what can you do to standout? Ex Machina is a brilliant, layered, oftentimes over your head conundrum of scientific exploration and possibility. It will leave you mildly befuddled, not necessarily with the story, but about our own daily lives. We love our machines. Our pockets or worn out in smart phone shapes and our computers never gets a second’s rest. For all intents and purposes, they help us live…they have literally become integral parts of our lives, functioning as vital organs. Ex Machina, ever so stylishly and cooly, asks if the machines reciprocate those feelings, or if they transcend them altogether. It’s one hell of a mindtrip.
Of everyone in the offices of BlueBook (a stand-in for Google), a programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the coveted giveaway to spend a week with the company’s founder. It’s the adult equivalent of opening an email to find a Golden Ticket, to be flown to the private living quarters/research facility of Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan’s home is a fortress of next level technology tucked into the hills and as much a part of nature as a Frank Lloyd Wright design. But Caleb wasn’t picked at random. And Nathan is always so frank and honest and inebriated that he feels untrustworthy. Hidden away behind forbidden corridors is the machine called Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Caleb is to be the human component in a Turing Test to determine whether she has artificial intelligence. Their sessions are cryptic, innocent, and deceptive.
Ex Machina is laden with so much dialogue, a lot of which is aimless man to man discourse with Caleb posing the questions and Nathan retorting with some brouhaha. Initially the script seems to be too loose with their interactions, especially when compared to the conciseness and brevity of Caleb’s sessions with Ava. However, it’s no mistake that the communication is done that way. It is how we talk in real life after all. We so often shoot the shit while face to face, but on our devices, or in this case with the machine directly, we tend to get right to the point. Writer/director Alex Garland knows this and imbues into his forward-thinking near future a sense of actual reality. It can feel slow, but I didn’t become disengaged, never doubted where this talented screenwriter was taking me in his directorial debut.
Gleeson is fine here in a role that doesn’t provide much depth or show outside of his forlorn eyes and his life of complete loneliness. On the flip side there is Oscar Isaac as Nathan, and he somehow believably pulls off a mad Victor Frankenstein genius, clearly battling his own insecurities and vulnerabilities. The real reason to see Ex Machina is for the delicate performance by Ms. Vikander. I haven’t seen her in anything else, but it is extraordinary how she manages to translate a slightly computerized voice into awkwardly inhuman movements all while expressing, primarily with her sultry and scheming gaze, enough humanity to believe she really is alive. The solid efforts by the cast only add to the confined and softened atmosphere created by Garland and his team.
For much of Ex Machina we are as clueless as Caleb. Up until the last scene we never know for sure what to expect, and that’s a triumph because of the visual cues and hidden story elements over the course of the movie. It’s imperative that you not only pay attention, but that you also think. That you see and comprehend the obtusely triangular dynamic being shown; Nathan the Father, Caleb the newcomer, and Ava the disdainful daughter. You must understand the crucial and inaccurate comparison to interacting with Ava as playing a game of chess. And then you must expand on these ideas because the film does not do all of the leg work for you. Think about it as you fall asleep to the sound of your TV. The next time you ask Siri a question. When you panic as your cellphone battery is about to die. Ex Machina may not correctly predict our future, but it most certainly depicts our rapidly changing shift from human to human connection, now able to be found in something as small as a phone to an Artificially Intelligent being so long as the power remains on. The more I think about it, the more I feel Garland succeeded in his own cinematic Turing Test, effortlessly proving his film’s intelligence and awareness without us ever really knowing.
“That’s not the history of man…it’s the history of gods.”
Rating: 4 out of 5