“Can consciousness exist without interaction?”
Cogito ergo sum. Or in English, I think, therefore I am. That famous phrase proposed by philosopher Rene Descartes applies to Ex Machina pretty nicely. Programmer Caleb (Domhall Gleeson), works for one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, Internet company. On a seemingly routine day on the job, on his computer, Caleb gets the golden ticket.
He is selected to be a participant in an experiment by his company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Issac), a brilliant but self-removed member of society. In this isolated location houses Nathan’s vision, his latest version of an artificial intelligence known by the name of Ava (Alicia Vikander). She’s convincing in both shapely physical appearance and intellect, but she has to be tested. For seven days, Caleb will interact with Ava, and he will be the judge as to just how far along artificial intelligence has come.
Rookie director Alex Garland’s (writer of 28 Days Later, Dredd, and The Beach) Ex Machina really is not a trailblazing piece of science fiction. Artificial intelligence is, and will always be, a common theme that sci-fi directors tackle. Probably because, as the movie alludes to, it is just the next step in the evolutionary process, and while our world isn’t completely there yet, we are not far away. It remains intriguing to analyze and discuss, and for the most part, Ex Machina and Garland present a very tight and tale.
For a first-timer behind the camera, Garland experiences little growing pains. As a smaller film, the technical aspects are extremely convincing. In yours truly’s opinion, however, much praise has to go to the wonderful constructing of the film’s setting. The unnamed locale (think upper California or the Pacific Northwest) adds immensely to the story and creates a cool polarity between the futuristic themes and the older, woodsy environment. There’s more substance than true style here, but style does exist in the way of an occasionally vibrant color palate. All of this, combined with a score that gets under the viewer’s skin in a few scenes, all adds up to a technically great presentation.
The only area where Garland is uneven and mediocre in his debut directorial feature is the pacing. The beginning does its job in setting up the plot and the environment, and it would be wrong to say that Ex Machina wastes time in establishing these. But, to yours truly at least, at times it is so deliberate and plodding that the movie does bog down in spots. Still, this super methodical pace allows the ideas to simmer and stew on the viewer, even if one can likely see where some strands are going. As mentioned previously, these ideas may not be revolutionary (though an awesome examination of internet search history is very profound), but they will always be important and worth talking about.
There are 10 credited actors and actresses that appear here, but all that truly matter are three: Oscar Issac, Domhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander. Issac is on a roll now, and ends up making a character in Nathan who is equal parts eccentric, humorous, brilliant, and a little disturbing. It is refreshing to see the old template of a geeky, skinny, maybe socially awkward computer mastermind eschewed for something more in line perhaps with what a mastermind could, and does, look like today. He is never completely painted as a villain or a hero when it is all said and done, just a man who is a genius that uses his intellect on something that is simply the next step in the human process.
Gleeson is more of the stereotypical programmer, and not as dynamic as Issac in a performance sense or a character sense, but his reactions and motivations are convincing. Seeing the two interact and talk with each other is comparable to an immovable force versus an immovable object, from a mental standpoint at least. These two men are undoubtedly human, but the person who gives the movie a soul in my opinion is the android Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. The work she turns in is very Peter Weller-ish, which is to say that so much is conveyed only the eyes. It is a difficult thing, and Vikander succeeds effortlessly in doing so, with once scene in particular near the middle involving clothing standing out above all others. It is hard to believe this is the same actress who appears in the nothingness that is Seventh Son.
With extremely solid performances, sound execution, and sharp presentation, Ex Machina is a science fiction that absolutely is required viewing for anyone semi-interested in the genre. The fibers and ideas are nothing new, but it sure is stimulating to watch and think about.
Photo credits go to blogs.indiewire.com, upandcomers.net, and elmulticine.com.
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