Ex Machina: A tour de force that reinvents science fiction (spoilers in the comments)

In light of the recent PGA: Producer’s Guild Awards nomination for Best Picture that voted Ex Machina, a film severely under-hyped for some reason, I’ve decided to re-write a review I did a while back. Watching it for the second time today, it gave me new insights that I want to express in this review. If only one thing can be said of the film, it is that it stirs your senses senseless. I can’t give enough praise to Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson. All of them had something uniquely theirs which gave their characters that little something extra. Coupled with an unsettling vibe and unexpected twists at every turn, Ex Machina destroys the stereotype that AI movies are action-driven, formulaic and expended.

In Ex Machina, there exists images that are joltingly vivid as well as subtle dialogue that keeps you on edge. Alex Garland film bottles up that sense of anticipation right through to it’s explosive and reflective conclusion. The idea behind the movie is simple. It’s effects however are complex and spiral out of the realm of even Nathan’s own controlled experiment.

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Ex Machina begins with the premise that genius billionaire scientist Nathan has created an artificial intelligence that might have it’s own consciousness. Nathan then selects programmer Caleb through a ‘competition’ to have the privilege of testing Ava’s abilities. Caleb then designs a series of ‘Turing tests’ to test Ava’s linguistic and semantic abilities and to deepen their understanding of consciousness and personality. Alicia Vikander gives her most affecting display as Ava. Wonderfully realized and complex, Vikander brings a calm and yet assertive touch to her cyborg frame. I don’t know how to put this well, she has this sort of adorable curiosity in her, which she puts to great use in breathing life into her character. She’s impressively entrancing but also a cerebral mystery, a lifeform that is malleable, liquid, adaptable. In the calm facade of the thickening drama bubbling in Nathan’s Darwinian subterrea, we’re introduced to one of the most complicated characters in all of cinema.

Segmented into parts, Ex Machina isn’t afraid to take things at its own pace. It wants to draw us deliberately into a fascinating scene of man and machine, and the back and forth dialogue of their interaction. Alicia Vikander’s sense of wonder and mystery is more to do with her superb acting, encapsulating the pensive, playful and provocative nature of Ava. Among the first conversations between them sees Ava mirroring Caleb’s speech ‘You decide…I’m interested to see what you’ll choose’ as a retort. Like two people jostling for conversational control, the pair’s first encounters feel awkward and uncomfortable. But the beauty in Ex Machina, is slowly making their interaction more natural, in turn, making us desensitized and even connected to their growing relationship.

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With every obssessive and affectionate gaze that Caleb looks from the camera in his room, to every profound philosophical justification that Nathan gives for his work, to every premonition that Ava reveals in secrecy, Ex Machina is made of many subtle reveals which mean many different things. This sense of ambiguity is nowhere more obvious than in the ocular nature of the film; The things that are so explicitly seen and the things that hide beneath. Whereas dialogue is compelling and edifying, the visual craft is unashamedly naked. It is utterly shocking. And the best part? Even after exposing in the most striking ways, the nature of it remains an open sandbox. With the endless amount of questions the film has asked of its viewers, some might be put off by it’s confused nature. For me, one thing is certain. It’s an inquest into the very dysfunction of experience. What is felt and known can be so different, so powerful, so intense – so crucial in re-shaping the moral structure of the film. I tell you, you won’t find someone with that same interpretation. And therein lie the film’s brilliance

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Ex Machina may well be one of the most intriguing films of our time. Is Nathan a one-off warped genius that transcends current thinking, or does he represent our base desire for creation and knowledge. Is Caleb a victim of his own naivete, or a victim of human emotion.  Whatever the film has to offer, it does so with a brave intention of exposing what could potentially haunt us. All our endeavours may not birth what we can even contain, or as Nathan puts it quite succintly, ‘One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.’ With its final scenes, Ex Machina leaves it’s most nuanced character with the biggest questions. Deus ex machina? God from the machine? There is definitely much to think about.

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“What will happen to me if I fail your test? Will it be bad? Do you think I might be switched off because I don’t function as I’m supposed to?” – Ava

“I don’t know, it’s not up to me” – Caleb

“Why is it up to anyone? Do you have people to test you and might switch you off? – Ava

“No” – Caleb

“Then why do I?” – Ava

Rating: 10/10  An absolute must-watch.

 

Images courtesy of DNA Films, Film4, Scott Rudin Productions and Universal Studios

Cover art by one mightily talented Alex Seder.

 

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Jay says:

    And man that Oscar Isaac , eh? He’s really something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jwforeva says:

      Yeah he’s so versatile, someone give him an award already! Alicia Vikander was awesome too.

      Like

  2. I agree, best movie of the year so far! That ending! Kinda seems like they set it up for a second one too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jwforeva says:

      Yeah kinda, although I think the director intended to leave us hanging. The ending still unsettles me abit.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have heard such good things about this movie lately – I wasn’t impressed by the trailers for it when it came out, but I feel like I should see it after all the praise I’ve seen for it recently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jwforeva says:

      Trailers often deceive! It’s a really great film and it’s more concerned with making you think more than trying to say anything concrete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is something I like to hear about a movie!

        Like

  4. erinb9 says:

    I agree, this was an amazing film.

    My husband and I reacted to it very differently, too. He was completely horrified by the ending, and while I was too, it was also cathartic. I think it’s because women have heard the Pygmalion story in a million forms and can be psychologically tormented by the idea of a “perfect” female copy being created as a replacement.

    But the more human she becomes, the more likely she is to develop free will.

    I wonder if men and women generally have different reactions to seeing this film.

    Like

    1. jwforeva says:

      Haha I never heard of the pygmalion effect until I checked it out, but I’ve heard of the greek story once. I never thought of it this way, but yeah its interesting and makes alot of sense. But why do you say women have heard it more than men? Hmm, I don’t know, I think men can also feel threatened by the idea of a perfect male copy?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. erinb9 says:

        Yes, in theory men could be threatened too, but it doesn’t seem to come up as much. I can’t think of any perfect male cyborg romances, but you’ve got Bladerunner, Stepford Wives, Austin Powers fembots…

        In the last Mass Effect video game, there was Edi, the ship’s virtual intelligence put into a hot cyborg body, and in Fallout 4 you have Curie, a synth woman put into an attractive female body. Both of those characters were romance-able, but none of the male synths were.

        Just seems to be a running theme for women and I can’t think of any male equivalents

        Liked by 1 person

      2. jwforeva says:

        Wow haha this is so deep, nice examples too, I guess you’re right. I wonder why there’s no romace -able male synth. I have this wild guess that its an objectification of women? Oh Cortana? Yeah! I’ve heard of her. It just seems like an attempt to put the female spirit into another form, because if it comes from the original female form, then men feel too threatened. Which relates nicely to how men often feel most threatened; Their ego. In Ex Machina though, Ava’s a little different because she’s a threatened by both the female(intrinsic) and the male(by interacting with Nathan all her life), I think Ava has both the male and female complex which makes her a super intriguing character. There’s alot of fear inside her, plus the fact that she feels trapped and yearns to see the world. So she represents not the male or the female complex, but the complete existence complex which is survival. I’d really like to know what you think, cos I think we’re getting into some seriously deep psychoanalysis. It’s so nice to be able to have a convo like that 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. erinb9 says:

        I agree, it’s a fun convo. 🙂 Had to look up Cortana. Halo character?

        Don’t know if you played fallout 4 but there’s two male synth companions and you can’t romance either of them but you can romance the female synth. Seems typical, from what I can tell… And the male synths are cool

        I’m not sure but it feels like the female robot idea is about having the “perfect” woman but she’s no threatening, because she’s still an object you can own. She can’t reject you or leave you, maybe?

        And on some level this bugs us (women) because we wonder if some men want us phased out and replaced by a superior model, lol. So I liked Nathan and he seemed like a great guy, but it’s also nice to see the idea that an artificial intelligence at some point can make its own decisions. So men could make this “perfect” woman but now you’re battling something superior to humans and maybe less sentimental and empathetic than a real woman- even scarier.

        I agree- Ava is not male or female, just looks female and figured out how to play the role correctly to her advantage. Tapped into the guy’s desire to rescue her.

        Eh, hope it’s okay that I kinda put spoilers in these comments. Maybe I should put a warning (sorry) but the convo was interesting

        Liked by 1 person

      4. jwforeva says:

        Think so. I didn’t play the game, but I saw her in some mag and looked her up. Nope I haven’t played Fallout 4, but it sounds cool. Yeah, that’s true. Men still want to own and its a idealistic albeit chauvanist attempt to create the ‘perfect woman’.
        I thought Nathan was kind of on the extreme side though, he’s gifted by also hugely flawed. But yeah agreed, even he couldn’t contain what he had just created.
        Well, then men should be afraid that we might get replaced too haha!!
        Yes. I couldn’t have said it better myself. This ‘perfect’ woman is after all, not that perfect for us humans anymore. It’s perfect in a level that transcends far beyond our mere human needs. In effect, we’ve birthed something so much more powerful than us, that has its own needs to fulfil. Actually Nathan foreshadows this when he said the AI’s will be looking at our fossils like we look at the fossils in africa.
        Noo its okay! I’ve already spoiled abit in the review itself. This discussion was so insightful, hey, I’d love to have another one again! I’ll just edit the title and put SPOILER ALERT haha 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      5. erinb9 says:

        Oh that’s right, sorry- I was thinking of the main character when we were taking about Nathan, oops! Nathan did have issues, despite his genius.

        I meant to say I liked the new hire. Seemed like a good guy with good intentions.

        Sorry about spoilers- I totally understand if you delete or move my comments. It was just such a great film that brought up so many issues, I was excited to tackle them with someone.

        I think you should definitely have spoiler threads for people to discuss these films. It’s so fun

        Liked by 1 person

      6. jwforeva says:

        Nah, of course I won’t be deleting them. It’s such an insightful discussion!!! Me too, thanks for having that convo with me 🙂 Nice idea, I’ll think about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. erinb9 says:

        Thank you too, it was super fun! I need to read more of your stuff 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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