Ex Machina

Ex Machina ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I don’t understand why some people are not concerned.

The above quote from Bill Gates was used in a trailer for the film. As the film unfolded, my mind brought back that Gates quote over and over and over. The film ends, at least for me, with that question and explains its importance. Because this film is so important let’s get the “filmy” stuff out of the way.

Alex Garland made this film for 11 million euros which is roughly the equivalent of 12.6 million dollars. Garland was offered even more money by the studio but turned it down, wanting more restriction on his set. What filmmaker has ever done that? Garland, in that instant, made me respect him that much more because it showed his dedication to making this film come to life. He clearly had a vision. The production design on this film is futuristic but not overbearingly so. Everything in frame seems to have a purpose. It isn’t trying to throw cool little scientific gadgets in your face if they don’t lend to the story. In a way a lot of what is on screen is the simplicity of it. So much of it is barren. It emphasizes the disconnect from society both in the physical separation and the emotional separation.

What aids the production design is the cinematography. Initially I thought my theatre had possibly played it in lower quality but it’s just the saturation of the picture. This combined with the occasionally out-of-focus shots helps elevate the beauty and imagination of the AI technology and research and keep the “real” world of the forest and the trees looking less gripping than they could be by taking away their perceptual gravitas. It is even possible that this was a direct choice by Garland not only for the above reasons, but to place us in the mind of Ava. To have our mind unable to completely grasp what human perception is. It could even be to understand Caleb’s perspective more as he stands as a placeholder for humanity in that we cannot reach our full potential even with the evolutionary advances we already have, at least without the advancements this film suggests.

This film would be nothing close to its achievement without the dedication of its three main actors. Oscar Isaac is as smarmy as he’s ever been, shedding a bit of his good-natured past characters. Domhnall Gleeson was the big surprise for me. I had only seen him in Harry Potter and heard of him from About Time. I was weary of his talents but his subtlety and vulnerability matches Isaac’s subtlety perfectly. On the other end we have Alicia Vikander who I suspect will be blowing up this year. She’s supposed to be in like six movies?! Rightly so, if you haven’t see her previous work I highly recommend you take a look. This film is her best work. Her dedication to this role is evident from the first introduction. I’m obsessed with how she worked this character out. It must be a terrifying commitment to attach oneself to a character that may or may not have consciousness. To act like a computer or a robot is what I assumed would happen and was quite worried. She barely does this, only occasionally in her body movements which end up feeling for natural than anything. Her voice inflection, her searching eyes, everything she does is extraordinary. It will not be a performance I forget for quite a while if ever.

All of the glorious aspects of this film are only amplified by its score which had similar haunting feel to that of Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin. It was as edgy but it definitely provoked lot of internal screaming at points. The pacing was great. I have a feeling it had a lot more to do with Garland’s meticulous direction than the editing though I could be wrong. It all accumulated in a concoction of steady suspense with a dance number (!!) thrown in. Garland knows the best way to increase suspense is to evoke awkwardness--that dance number was everything it needed to be.

Alex Garland has made a Sci-Fi masterpiece. It’s not a masterpiece because of it’s imaginative cinematography, production design, effects and suspense, but because, like other great Sci-Fi works, it takes the frameworks of a reality and transcends it. However, how it is transcended is what makes this film great. It doesn’t transcend other Sci-Fi films because it has created a totally new world but because it found a new world from the one we are already living in. It has a lot to say about how we are already likely abusing and manipulating our technology in harmful ways. The “sex-slave” subplot is eerily present in our society. Even the little quip towards the end where Caleb asks if Nathan got her facial makeup from his porn history is such a punch in the gut because you realize how much the internet is doing already with similar methods. Ex Machina found the future in the present and made it that much more terrifying. Most Sci-Fi films simply duplicate the world we live in and alter small things or create a new world thousands of years in the future with very small levels of evolution, but here Garland has captured the absolute greatest promise and dread of humanity’s future by his exploration of Artificial Intelligence.

Everyone who watches this film is going to watch it differently. Given the almost sex-slave subplots of the film I, a 19 year-old woman, likely had a different experience watching than the 65 year-old man sitting in front of me at the theatre because of both our gender difference and our age difference. These simple subjective perspectives is what makes AI so fascinating: that you could program perspective and also, through this NSA facial cue system, eradicate any need for it by being programmed to see each and every perspective. Essentially, by having everything on the internet, via these search engines, available to the mind it makes empathy, on any level, appear useless. I could get into a huge argument about the future of AI and Rosenthal’s whole HOTs theory and the need for emotional,social and cognitive intelligence to evolve simultaneously but we won’t go there because this is not a film about future possibilities. It’s a film about one possibility which is extinction. Not of humanity per se but of the kind of humanity we all know. But to be so explicitly involved in the future of our own evolution at this level could be an incredible feat and is in itself a kind of evolution.

"'Deus ex machina' is a calque from Greek, meaning 'god from the machine'. The term has evolved to mean a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has 'painted himself into a corner" and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending...'"

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