“Ex Machina” – a film review by Gary Chew
From a machine stems much consternation regarding ‘Ava’ in British director Alex Garland’s debut film Ex Machina. ‘Ava’ is an android that nearly perfectly resembles a young, adult woman. In order for a world-shaking high tech innovation scoop, Caleb agrees to be tasked by Nathan to verify, via a “Turing Test,” if ‘Ava’ exhibits intelligent behavior tantamount to and, thus, indistinguishable from that of a human. Hark, let there be artificial intelligence! The test takes the name of the late British genius, Alan Turing — a pioneer in computers and played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game – a really good one from last year.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) travels to a strikingly beautiful and lavish mountain retreat/laboratory in which Nathan (Oscar Issac) and his assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Minzuno) reside — with ‘Ava’ (Alicia Vikander).
Through a week long schedule of conversations that are most of the testing procedure, Caleb and ‘Ava’ get to know one another. Caleb reports to Nathan on how the testing discussions are going. But Nathan eavesdrops on the other two anyway. I should mention that Nathan’s covert observations come as no surprise for Caleb or ‘Ava.’ Both are are almost as smart as Nathan; but neither Caleb nor ‘Ava’ are as screwed up as Nathan, or swig as much alcohol as does their eccentric host and CEO of a highly successful worldwide tech conglomerate known as Bluebook.
The formidable elements of Ex Machina are deception, paranoia, voyeurism and misogyny – pretty much in that order. Each quietly slips into the narrative as the days go by while Caleb assesses ‘Ava’ as bona fide artificial intelligence or not. All through the film, though, CGI is adroitly applied to make Ms. Vikander, who in real life, is actually a human being, but looks like a savvy, snazzy woman robot. She’s slightly reminiscent of “The Female” Scarlett Johansson plays in the very fine and creepy Under The Skin. Other surprise CGI applications come later in director Garland’s excellent script that hangs a good deal with compelling, high-abstract chatter. I-T nerds … enjoy.
Kyoko becomes more prominent as time goes by. She doesn’t speak and looks to be rather disconnected with her surroundings, although seems to be the one who tidies up around Nathan’s remarkable digs. Nathan tells Caleb the reason Kyoko doesn’t talk is because she speaks no English. That’s perfect for Nathan’s projects. He wants no one to know — just yet — what’s going on at his house. The future awaits his ambitious and quite iconic accomplishments … not unlike a man of science and biology from earlier times who was fond of human experimentation and brought to life by Mary Shelly.
Issac shows some good stretch with his acting talent. Seeing him taking the lead in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, and now as a hip high tech dude possibly suffering from a terminal case of narcissism indicate that Issac knows his place in front of a camera and the stage as well.
Eyes should remain peeled for Vikander. Her ‘Ava’ might be the most human looking lady robot you’ve every seen even though her midsection, arms and legs seem to have been constructed on an assembly line somewhere in a underground bunker in Silicon Valley.
If Gloria Steinem were to ever write a movie review, I hope it would be one about Ex Machina, if you get my drift.