Film Reviews

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Ex Machina

Title: Ex Machina

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "C:/DOS, C:/DOS/RUN, RUN/DOS/RUN."

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half Marias from Metropolis out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Boy meets robot. Boy impressed. Have deep feelings for Sheriff Bart robot.

Tagline: "There is nothing more human than the will to survive."

Better Tagline: "Shall we play a game?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young programmer Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) learns he's the winner of a mystery contest held by the CEO of his company. Spirited away to a secluded laboratory cum fortress, he meets his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), and learns the "prize" involves Nathan's secret project, a startlingly advanced android named Ava (Alice Vikander).

"Critical" Analysis: Alex Garland is already responsible for scripting two fairly compelling 21st century genre films: 28 Days Later and Sunshine (both directed by Danny Boyle). He also wrote the criminally underrated Dredd. With Ex Machina, he takes the director's chair for the first time, and the results are quite impressive.

Like our protagonist, the audience is whisked off with little idea just what the hell is going on. At first, Caleb only knows that Nathan, founder and CEO of a Google analog called BlueBook, is working on a super-secret project at his super-secret lair, a location so remote the helicopter that brings him there isn't allowed within a half mile of the place.

Once arriving, he (and we) meet Nathan, who bears little resemblance to the Asperger-y Silicon Valley stereotype. He works the heavy bag in between all-night benders, bops around in a wife beater and track pants, and uses "Dude" in conversation more often than one might comfortably expect from a tech exec.

Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava shortly thereafter, and the young man learns his job is essentially to administer a week-long Turing test. Ava is certainly convincing, in a Sean Young from Blade Runner sort of way, especially when she dons clothes more appealing to Caleb's (millennial hipster) sensibilities. Against his better judgment (and Nathan's warnings), Caleb finds himself falling for the android, and discovers the feeling(?) might be mutual.

The less said about what actually happens in Ex Machina, the better, and if you're planning on seeing the movie, I recommend avoiding as much info about it online as possible. Simply put, Garland has given us an excellent work of genuine science fiction that will stand with other notable recent efforts like Moon and Europa Report. With his Rasputin beard and the menace imparted by Isaac's fine performance, it's also easy to wholly absorb Nathan as the bad guy, especially when the inevitable ... romantic robot hypotheticals come up. A less canny writer than Garland may have taken an easier path, but part of what makes Ex Machina so compelling is the depth of its characters, and the subtlety of their motives.

Garland's own feelings on AI, on the other hand, are pretty transparent. Through cues both understated (OMD's "Enola Gay" plays in the background during one scene) and not so much (Caleb drops Oppenheimer's "I am become Death" at another point), the grim implications ("grimplications?") of creating a fembot with the potential to go full Skynet are clear. The ending, which caught me off guard, is obviously intended to be ambiguous, but I confess I found it terrifying.

Ex Machina is in theaters today. Wir sind die Roboter.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar