Advanced theatrical screenings of “Ex Machina” begin tonight in Houston with an official release tomorrow.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer at BlueBook; one of the biggest internet search engines in the world. He wins the opportunity to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac); the creative genius who created BlueBook. Nathan lives in an extremely technologically advanced home complete with security key cards to get into shielded glass rooms that protect his precious inventions and breakthrough discoveries, but his home is also in the middle of nowhere with only beautiful forest-like landscapes, babbling brooks, gushing waterfalls, and the bright blue sky as sources for inspiration.
What Caleb doesn’t know is that Nathan brought him into his home as a means of testing his new project; a form of artificial intelligence known as Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s up to Caleb to determine just how human Ava really is.
One of the biggest complaints about Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie” was that it attempted to explore too many concepts without ever really following up on any of them. One of the more long-lasting impressions that “Chappie” made is about artificially creating life. What if a creation is able to interact with its creator? What if that creation becomes more than a simple discovery? What if artificial life somehow became its own entity and evolved into something that was both physically and mentally alive? In a way, “Ex Machina” feels like a scaled back version of “Chappie” that strips the film of its action and focuses on the science fiction aspects of it while also making a sound argument that it has an incredibly intelligent story to tell in the process.
There are some serious underlying tones in “Ex Machina” with the main characters purposely having biblical names and the comparisons to Prometheus (the Titan, not the film). Nathan thinks of himself as a god based on something Caleb says early on in the film when in fact Nathan compared the creation of Ava to “the history of gods.” There’s also this overwhelming sensation of seclusion in the film. Caleb’s room that he stays in while visiting Nathan’s home purposely has no windows while Nathan is left on his own away from everyone and everything to tinker with his genius, which obviously can lead to things that can change the world for both the better and the worst.
Seeing Ava for the first time is intriguing. Certain parts of her body like her face and her hands have a flesh like appearance, but the majority of her arms, torso, and skull are completely transparent with her high tech insides and inner circuitry constantly glowing and revealing how her body works. As far as artificial intelligence goes Ava is quite the exquisite creature. She has emotions, desires, and is able to crack jokes with ease. The interactions between Caleb and Ava are fascinating because you find yourself constantly toying with the idea of who is really interrogating whom.
This is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, a man who has written the likes of “28 Days Later…,” “Sunshine,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Dredd.” “Ex Machina” is mostly devoted to Caleb testing Ava for consciousness. Caleb reporting back to Nathan about what he sees in Ava after each session is forced into a more relaxed state on Nathan’s part; it’s just two guys having a conversation about something amazing. Nathan wants Caleb to think before he speaks yet it also seems like he doesn’t want him to over-analyze anything. That’s where Nathan’s drinking comes in.
Alex Garland drowns the audience in subtlety with “Ex Machina.” There is this snowball effect that begins as soon as Caleb steps out of the helicopter. A mountain of doubt is built with the lies that are told, everything being on lock down, and power surges that can’t be controlled. Even the soundtrack begins as a slow, harmless rhythm that slowly escalates to the sound of a racing heartbeat and is eventually pounding in your ears and driving you insane.
It’s around this point that the events in the film become a bit easier to foresee. The slow building rise of doubt immediately puts you on edge, so you tend to expect that someone isn’t trustworthy before it’s ever actually revealed. The film also attempts to double back with its reveal during its finale, which makes things a bit confusing. But the film becomes more and more thought provoking the longer it gestates in your mind, which is a serious bonus.
“Ex Machina” asks a handful of questions that introduce many interesting concepts without ever having to fully answer those questions. Can emotions be programmed? What do you do if you fall in love with an artificial being? What makes someone human? What happens when the artificial creation evolves into a level of humanity that surpasses its creator? Who is manipulating whom? Where the film is headed and potentially which path it chooses to take is one of the aspects of “Ex Machina” that makes it so encompassing.
“Ex Machina” is incredibly slow moving throughout and never really escalates to an exciting pace, but its slow burn mentality and ability to ignore being rushed is what makes it so enticing. This is a film that completely capitalizes on the woes of artificially created life and yet another sci-fi film released this year that seems to borrow ideas from “Pinocchio.” “Ex Machina” is completely and utterly mesmerizing and a film that undeniably revitalizes the sci-fi genre.