December 18, 2015 Ex Machina (Movie Review)
A man is brought in to test an attractive android to see if it is self-aware, but who is really being tested? This is the premise of 2015 film Ex Machina, which begins innocently enough with Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2010, Black Mirror TV Series 2013), a computer programmer for the company, Blue Book (essentially Google), toiling away at his computer when a message appears that he won a contest. It is seemingly a pretty big deal, as he texts everyone, and co-workers come over and give him hugs and adulations. The next thing the viewer knows, they are in a helicopter flying over the breathtaking Norwegian landscape to the compound of Nathan (Oscar Isaac: All About the Benjamins 2002, X-Men: Apocalypse 2016), the eccentric and egotistical creator and owner of the tech company, Blue Book.
After an awkward introduction, Caleb and Nathan begin talking about the Turing Test, which is when a human interacts with a computer to see if it has artificial intelligence. It is here that one of the most chilling lines of the film is uttered by Caleb: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man. That’s the history of gods.” Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander: The Danish Girl 2015, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2015), not much more than an exoskeleton with a beautiful face of flesh, flesh hands, and flesh feet. He asks her a few questions and she responds intelligently in a human voice. That night while not being able to sleep, Caleb turns on his television and sees that it is a camera feed from Ava’s room. As he watches, fascinated, the power goes out, the compound goes on lockdown, and Caleb is unable to leave his room. In a few moments, the power comes back and Caleb goes for a walk to investigate and encounters Nathan drunk in a room. When he questions Nathan about the lockdown, he says it is a security measure so that no one can get in or out, but not to worry.
The next morning, Caleb continues his test with Ava when she turns the tables and starts asking him personal questions. Caleb responds in kind to her query for friendship. At first, his responses are stiff and analytical, but he soon loosens up like he is speaking with a person. He tells her that his parents died in a car crash when he was younger and she expresses sympathy. She starts questioning if he likes Nathan and if he considers Nathan a friend. All of a sudden, the power goes out again and Ava tells him not to trust Nathan. When the power comes back, she practices deceptiveness by acting like she is continuing a conversation about books and music. With her ability for a machine to comprehend these things, it appears all is not what it seems.
Though the cast is minimal, they are all brilliant and play their parts wonderfully. Domnhall Gleeson plays the happy-go-lucky Caleb, who shines brightest when his naiveté makes him susceptible to being manipulated by the very thing he first viewed as just a machine. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is, for lack of a better term, a nerd-bro: a technical genius, but a chauvinistic, over-partying, douche bag. However, he is not wholly unlikeable: he has a good, dry sense of humor, and wit. Alicia Vikander’s Ava is nothing short of remarkable, for in the film her character is an android that has not been “born” for a very long time. She is very demure, charismatic, inquisitive, and gentle. She is also very deceptive; she is a conscious being that is locked, or trapped in a room with her own dreams of freedom.
The other highlight of Ex Machina, aside from the breathtaking landscape, is the top-notch computer graphics. Ava is part actress and part computer graphics; she has a face and neck, but her head is more or less transparent showing her “brain.” Her torso is half actress and half computer graphics: Top of her abdomen and up is a gray mesh shirt and her stomach is clear showing her frame. Her arms and legs are all clear showing her “bones” and wires with flesh hands and feet. The computer graphics were done so well that the viewer would be hard-pressed to determine if it actually is CG. There are other great moments of seamless computer graphics, but they could be considered spoilers; long story short, those who are effects snobs will be satisfied. Quite simply, Ex Machina is a brilliant, thought-provoking film that shows that maybe some technological advances are best left unmade. CrypticRock gives this film 5 out of 5 stars.