“Ex Machina” – “I got a golden ticket,” Charlie and Grandpa Joe exclaimed in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971).
This particular ticket won them a trip of a lifetime to Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory, but little did they know the eccentric strangeness they would encounter once inside.
In 2015, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a 26 year-old programmer for wildly successful tech company, BlueBook, wins a similar trip of a lifetime to the company’s founder’s estate (Oscar Issac).
Nathan’s (Issac) estate better resembles an acquired piece of territory.
It covers countless miles of mountains and valleys, and his actual home is mostly submerged beneath dirt and rock in a futuristic labyrinth of concrete, sterile hallways, minimalist furniture, and glass doors which only open via metallic key cards.
For reasons I should not explain, Nathan’s persona doesn’t exactly match expectations, and with some surprising personal quirks, he explains the purpose of Caleb’s visit: to help determine if an artificial intelligence creation can be mistaken for a human being.
Within one of his secret rooms sits Ava (Alicia Vikander), an artificial life form who has the face, mannerisms and thought processes of a beautiful and intelligent 20-something year-old woman.
Writer/director Alex Garland provides an excellent setup for a mano a mano (or should I say mano a máquina) encounter.
In an unsettling environment, Nathan sets up several meetings for Caleb and Ava with only a glass wall separating the two “test subjects”.
Ava is pleasant enough, and very soon, she forms an intellectual and physical connection with Caleb.
The movie explores ideas of computer evolution and the human experience, but these are less important as the individual tension between the film’s three leads.
The three do not stand on equal playing fields as the “home-field advantage” is heavily stacked in Nathan’s favor.
He plays a puppet master who also owns the stage, and Caleb and Ava both feel Nathan pulling their strings during this potentially barrier-smashing week.
Nathan obviously wants his creation to become intellectually and emotionally mistaken for a person, but the film drops subtle and obvious hints of other intentions hidden from view.
Despite the elaborate confines, Caleb is truly placed in a creepy surroundings, and Garland’s clever camerawork gives the film a “2001” (1968) HAL-like feel.
HAL, in this case, is a combination of Nathan and Ava, and Caleb decides to dance with the devil(s) by proceeding with caution and trusting his convictions.
“Ex Machina” is a deliberate and haunting science-fiction picture and is most effective by simply capturing the emotions between three very skilled actors’s characters.
At the end of the day, we, the audience, won a golden ticket. (4.5 / 5 stars)