Friday, May 1, 2015

Movie Review #251: "Ex Machina" (2015)

Movie"Ex Machina"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Alex Garland
Rating: R
Running Time 1 hour, 48 minutes
Image Source

A young programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), working at the world's most popular search engine, BlueBook, is selected in a office contest to spend a week with the company's founder, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Once arriving at Nathan's vast isolated estate, Caleb is introduced to the new company project Ava (Alicia Vikander), an artificially intelligent android. Nathan wants Caleb to test Ava and see how human she really is.

"Ex Machina" is a relatively small sci-fi drama that deals with the philosophical issue of personhood, as well topical issues of personal privacy in our technological age. There are a lot of twists and turns throughout the film as deception runs thick within its nature. Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, an eccentric, arrogant genius billionaire who Caleb describes as the 'Mozart of computer programming.' In many ways, Nathan embodies a lot of what we fear about technology. He has developed a site called BlueBook, which is basically this movie's version of Google without really saying Google outright. It is the most popular search engine on the web, and just like Google, it employs and abuses the use of data mining as a way to learn about human behavior. In this movie, however, instead of trying to simply track shopping habits to develop advertising profiles, BlueBook develops personality profiles which Nathan is then using to understand how people think in order to develop his own artificial intelligence. Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is of above average intelligence, a nerdy programmer working for Nathan's company and initially believes he won a contest and was selected at random for a weekend retreat to meet the ever popular, mysterious BlueBook founder. Once Caleb arrives at Nathan's estate and is told why he is really there, Caleb quickly realizes his selection wasn't as random as he thought. He also discovers Nathan isn't being as straightforward with him as he would like, and this put a very palpable awkward, intense strain between the two. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson share some really fierce, edge of your seat moments with one another on screen and the two play off of each other's vulnerabilities expertly. Just when you think you can trust Nathan, when he does something that seems almost human, he makes a beeline for straight up crazytown and isn't afraid to show it.

Once Caleb understands why he is truly at Nathan's estate, he gets to meet Ava, the artificially intelligent robot, for the first time. Ava is played by Alicia Vikander and seems to have an innocence about her since she hasn't interacted with anyone other than Nathan since her inception. Her robotic appearance on screen is nothing short of brilliant and is a beautiful, mind-bending combination of the actress herself, practical makeup work and CGI. Ava has used Nathan's data mining information to learn about human interactions. Caleb is to test Ava using an updated form of the Turing Test to see just how 'intelligent' she is and whether or not they can relate to one another. At first, all seems hunky-dory, but then, when she gets a free moment to speak her 'mind,' she tells Caleb not to trust Nathan and that he is a liar. From there, Caleb and Ava build a relationship with one another based on her notion of what it means to be a human and to have emotions, playing a cat and mouse game involving the ideas of freedom, existentialism, self-awareness, and most importantly, trust.

This film has a deeply layered story with complex characters, as well as important, relevant themes that we face more and more as we become hyper-aware of the capabilities that these tech companies, internet service providers and communications companies have with the amount of our personal information they handle. It also discusses the inevitable development of artificially intelligent machines, something we have seen pop up quite a few times recently, but one that hasn't been handled in such a neatly wrapped package up until now. From its start, this movie manages to play on both our most basic fears of the violation of privacy in general, as well as the much bigger issue of what defines intelligence. From there, this spirals into an important, pertinent question for 2015: will we ever have thinking, adapting, sentient robots with the ability to blend in with the crowd and possibly take over not just out planet, but our consciousness as well? Not only are these questions enthralling and brainy, but they are so massively disturbing that it can hit you right to your core. What sets "Ex Machina" apart from other sci-fi films about artificial intelligence is that, while it doesn't oversimplify the issues at hand, it also doesn't make them too wordy for the laymen. It is both smart and well-written, complete and cliffhanging, intelligent in its dialogue and funny in its unfolding, both ironically and not so ironically.

It really sucks when smaller movies like this don't get the recognition they deserve. Instead, moviegoers flock to the latest Michael Bay shitfest and generally pass brilliant, complex, thinking films like "Ex Machina" over without batting an eyelash. Movies with legitimate, real ideas about society and what it means to be an intelligent being are tossed aside, destined for 'cult movie' status while films like "Transformers" with no real plot whatsoever other than to blow stuff up are skyrocketed to the top of the moneymaking charts. In a little under 2 hours, this movie has done more to develop the ideas of artificial intelligence and personhood than anything we have seen maybe ever in cinema, and it did so with incredible special effects that don't only serve as a plot device, but rather, the opening of our imaginations and our consciousnesses as a whole. It is a breath of fresh air for an otherwise tired genre, though it is a fearful breath at that as this could be our future and this could be our self-made destiny. And this is only Alex Garland's FIRST film! Isn't that incredible?! "Ex Machina" is the first movie we've seen this year we could truly call Oscar worthy, though we don't know if it will be recognized at all since the Academy has historically had a stick up its ass when it comes to sci-fi films. We're hoping with the recent nomination of "Her" in 2013, this limited, narrow and unfair viewpoint might be changing ever so slightly.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!
One year ago, we were watching: "Bears"


  1. I thought Ava was supposed to be a maniacal A.I. bent on destroying mankind? I'm really confused...

    1. Maybe Ava and Ultron can team up in "Ex Machina 2: The Search for More Money."