Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ is a superb thriller

Machina-(1)
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Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Ex Machina” is a science-fiction thriller film that centers on Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson, “Harry Potter”) and his weeklong apprenticeship. He assists the artificial-intelligence research of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac, “A Very Violent Year”), the CEO of BlueBook, a search-engine company that Caleb works for. The film is Garland’s directorial debut, although he has previously written other sci-fi thrillers such as “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go.”The film distinctly reflects Garland’s style and experience with delving into themes of robotics and anti-autonomy. Excellently demonstrating his expertise, the film poses the open-ended question: “What really defines humanity?”

“Ex Machina” starts with Caleb’s arrival at Nathan’s well-secluded and secure house in the mountains. Caleb’s tall and lanky computer-geek look serves to contrast Nathan’s cool attitude and toned, juice-cleansed physique. Getting invited into Nathan’s territory translates into a huge opportunity for Caleb. The scene is akin to the moment in high school films when the unpopular high school student gets to sit at the table with the attractive ones. Aside from spending time around a luscious landscape, Caleb gets the chance to help Nathan on his newest experiment, Ava (Alicia Vikander, “Anna Karenina”), an artificial intelligence robot who embodies the female mind, body and sexuality.

Caleb’s main purpose is to interact with Ava in as humanly normal a fashion as possible. When Ava begins to desire independence, Caleb is put in a dilemma of whom he should put his faith in: the unusually attractive robot or the man who created her.

Vikander, without a doubt, is the one you should look out for. She portrays Ava with an adamant thirst for life and autonomy while still giving hints of her artificiality. Vikander surely has the perfect face of a heartbreaker. Nothing special can be particularly said about Gleeson’s and Isaac’s performances. Although Vikander single-handedly steals the show like a queen, she still needs a couple of pawns to display her flair in acting.

“Ex Machina” revels in smart minimalism. The film doesn’t bother itself with any flashy special effects, helpful flashbacks or hair-raising sounds. This style works not only to maintain the mysterious appeal of the plot but also to illustrate the kind of future that the world is slowly transforming into. The minimalistic style also gives the film a sleek vibe — curious about realistic future and disinterested in ornamental details. The film immerses itself in claustrophobic quietness through Nathan’s rigid, highly guarded house and an almost complete absence of music.

The exploration of artificial intelligence has been introduced to mainstream audiences by Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” as well as Spike Jonze’s “Her.” The theme, however, has never been depicted with portending danger as realistically and plausibly as it is depicted in “Ex Machina.” In some cases, one may find himself or herself rooting for Ava’s curiosity for human living. One reason may be that she’s no Hal 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The only defining similarity that they have is that their characteristics are programmed to be a certain way.

The film also raises a lot of questions about the development of love and sexuality. It is an important aspect of humanity that Caleb sees in Ava’s behavior, and it is a more important one for her freedom.

“Ex Machina” has a very interesting premise that works really well as a mystery thriller. Everybody desires to understand intelligence but somehow fears what could possibly be found. The film, just as it did with Caleb, puts audience members in a precarious position to challenge their own minds, morals and intelligence. “Ex Machina” is definitely scary and disturbing, yet it’s enlightening overall. It will leave you talking about it for days to come.

Contact Majick Tadepa at [email protected].