Movie Review: EX_MACHINA (Alex Garland)

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CAPSULE: EX MACHINA is written and directed by Alex Garland. From the world’s most powerful Internet company, Caleb, a software engineer, has been chosen to spend a week as a guest of Nathan, the company’s reclusive founder. Nathan is a technical and entrepreneurial genius who lives and works at a highly secluded house and lab. There Caleb finds that during his visit he will be asked to talk with a robot to determine if it is truly conscious or just a machine. Bits and ideas in the story are borrowed from FRANKENSTEIN, BLADE RUNNER, HER, and even from film noir. When the story is all over there has been surprisingly little story told, but the viewer will have been privy to some very sophisticated philosophical ideas. This is a film that respects the thinking ability of the viewer, and if the intelligence is there it will be rewarded. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

BlueBook is the most successful search engine in the world after having been created by the mega-wealthy and reclusive CEO Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young software developer at Bluebook who wins a company contest for programmers. He will get to spend a week with Nathan at Nathan’s gorgeous and isolated home. What he does not know is that he is needed for an experiment. Nathan has a robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) with mostly human features. She may also have actual consciousness or she might be only a computer. Nathan has brought Caleb all this way to have daily interview sessions with Ava and at the end of the week, Caleb will be asked if Ava is still just an automatic computer or if she actually has consciousness. From there EX MACHINA had a plot that could have come from a thirty-minute Twilight Zone, but it is peppered with philosophical dialog about the nature of computer intelligence and what it will mean to humanity.

We see a little of what makes Nathan tick. He is a vulgar alcoholic and he does little to cover this up for Caleb. No doubt a genius, he has mostly burned out knocking his head on the complex question of the nature of human consciousness. It is a puzzle for the viewer to understand just how human Ava is and what does that even mean? She is maddeningly unemotional and that keeps her true self hidden. We see both through Caleb’s eyes. His personality is the least developed of the three. His passions are software coding and logic, and he seems to have no other life.

The viewer is drawn into discussions of topics such as computer awareness or whether a computer needs a gender. There are interesting touches. Just as Nathan created Ava, Nathan created this complex computerized house. Having created the house, he is its master. But for a short sequence in the film, Nathan loses the authority and the house becomes the boss. Can the house master its own creator?

The story, written and directed by Alex Garland (who wrote 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, and NEVER LET ME GO), unfolds slowly and precisely among some cutting edge ideas. It captures the viewer visually with its cold colors of blue and gray. Garland stays away from any warmth. Occasionally there is a thrumming on the soundtrack as if there is some machine controlling even the supposedly free willed humans. It was filmed in Norway among stone mountains and cold, snowy scenery.

This is a science fiction film that is mostly a cold exercise in philosophy. It is slow and deliberate. Somehow it is appropriate that this film should be released by Universal, the company that 84 years ago began the original Frankenstein series. This is also a film about humans creating the essence of life, but this time on a chip. This is science fiction without explosions, unless they are explosions of ideas. I rate EX MACHINA a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0470752/combined

Originally appeared on: http://leepers.us/machina.htm

Official Trailer: https://youtu.be/XYGzRB4Pnq8

Find below a selection of works by Alex Garland:

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About Mark Leeper

Mark Leeper has had a near life-long love of mathematics, science fiction, and cinema. Together with his wife Evelyn he founded a science fiction club at AT&T Bell Laboratories. Since 1978 they have published a weekly newsletter for their club for which Mark writes a weekly column and about sixty film reviews a year, all of which are available on the Internet.