At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Ex Machina “2015”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Psychological Thriller/ Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Corey Johnson, Claire Selby, Symara Templeman, Tiffany Pisani, Lina Alminas/ Runtime: 108 minutes

I think it best to start this review off by doing something quite distinct. That of course being that I would love to start this review off with a minor little history lesson. A lesson that goes that in the 50s, a brilliant man by the name of Alan Turing came up with what is today known as the Turing Test. This exam is a collection of questions that is meant to explore the possibility of an artificial organism displaying intelligence with the objective being that the artificial entity is to try and persuade the human component that the entity that they are interviewing cannot be discerned from a human being. It should come as no surprise to learn dear reader that this exam has not been passed….yet. Of course the further and further along humanity has gone in regards to its distinct relationship with technology, the more and more the idea of a legit artificial intelligence that could rival that of mankind’s feels like it’s no longer a matter of if, but rather when. Yet for all the positives that such a development could potentially have on the world, I think it should also be asked if we should also perhaps be a bit concerned by this technological advancement as well? I mean sure you can perhaps put the blame on the Terminator movies, Hardware from 1990, and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, but I have always been a little bit leery about the idea of a machine being just as intelligent as I am (on a good day that is). Well now I can now add a new movie to that list. That being 2015’s Ex Machina. Indeed here is a riveting slice of sci-fi cinema that easily could have simply done what everyone else has done and just called it a day. Instead, this is a fantastically executed on both sides of the camera film that manages to do a wonderful job of taking this time honored debate into new and unexpected places whilst providing us with a possible endgame that is the best mix of thrilling, intelligently realized, and chilling imaginable.

The plot is as follows: Ex Machina opens its electrifying narrative as we are introduced to our hero, a young man by the name of Caleb Smith. Mr. Smith, we are swiftly able to ascertain, is an immensely talented up and coming programmer at a company by the name of Bluebox that is the world’s largest search engine (so either Google is a close second or they have officially gone extinct in this slice of cinema’s universe). At any rate, we see that our young intrepid hero is about to have his life changed forever. That’s because when our film opens we learn he has just won a companywide contest and his prize is getting to spend a week with the company’s legendary yet reclusive founder Nathan Bateman. Upon arriving at Nathan’s glamorous yet remote estate however, Caleb quickly learns that there is an additional perk to this prize package that Nathan left out. That being that besides shooting pool, drinking beer, and just hanging out with the very dictionary definition of alpha male Nathan, Caleb has just earned himself a front row seat to history. This is because within this estate Nathan has done something truly astonishing and has managed to bring a robot girl by the name of Ava to life. Thus in other words: our hero has been brought to Nathan’s estate to engage in what is known as a Turing Test. An exam of sorts that is meant to determine if this robot Nathan has constructed is able to display a degree of intelligence that is on the level of if not completely indistinguishable from a person of flesh and blood much like you or me. However as he goes through his sessions with Ava, we start to see that Caleb actually begins to form a genuine attachment with her even as the bro-esque bond he has with Nathan starts to slowly but surely fall apart as a result of the fact that Nathan really isn’t entirely the most decent person in the world to put it mildly. Thus we soon see that the test to see if the machine is on our level of intellect starts to pale alongside the greater test our hero must figure out. That being that when caught in the middle of the machinations of an ever-learning and evolving machine and the overzealous and boorish man who created her then who really can you trust?

Right off the bat, I’m going to note that behind the camera one of the best things that this slice of cinema’s helmer chooses to operate with is the fact that, without going into spoilers, this slice of cinema is just as much a test as its narrative revolves around one. This is because as this slice of cinema goes on, it soon starts to slowly but surely dawn on the viewer that not all is as it seems. It is in this aspect that this film’s helmer is able to construct both an ingenious puzzle that is riveting from start to finish as well as an intriguing game of wits between our trinity of main characters that results in you, the viewer being left to figure out for yourself just what is genuine and what is the slice of cinema screwing with your brain. Indeed it’s a head-scratcher of the finest caliber that you will enjoy investigating be it the first time or 51st time viewing it. Of course on a bigger canvas, this slice of cinema deserves props for choosing to take on a intelligent and also realistic sci-fi narrative and selling it for all its worth. Yet despite being truly complex this slice of cinema is never befuddling to say nothing of absolutely not patronizing in any way to the movie goer who chooses to watch it. Of course, this really isn’t that much of a shock due to the film helmer’s terrific prior work in this iconic and storied genre, but if you have never seen any of his other movies from Dredd in 2012 to Sunshine in 2007 then this one should serve as a delightful introduction. Yet despite Garland showing a lot of skill as a writer, this slice of cinema also shows immense skill as a helmer with particular regard to how this slice of cinema looks. I say this because this is one slice of cinema that is equally as gorgeous as it is riveting. Indeed within the locale that is both Nathan’s estate as well as his research facility, we see that Garland manages to do an incredible job at pairing up thematic concepts alongside this slice of cinema’s aesthetic. This includes the utilization of mirrors to allude to both how distorted our protagonists sense of what is real becomes as well as how Ava’s existence reflects on each and every one of us as human beings. We also get phenomenal work when it comes to the overall design of Ava. Indeed not only is this design fancy enough to apply the phrase “next level” to, but it also is grounded and realistic enough to look like something that humanity genuinely could come up with in the next 20 years or so.

Now the other big ace that this slice of cinema is operating with would undoubtedly have to be the trinity of top-flight performances in front of the camera. This starts with Domhnall Gleeson in the role of our protagonist Caleb and he is terrific. Indeed Gleeson does a terrific job at playing the, for all intents and purposes, geeky character in this whilst also giving him wonderful degrees of both ever-growing compassion and empathy for Ava as well as an equal amount of dislike and slight hatred one could argue for Nathan. More than that though, Caleb is also meant to be the point of view of the audience watching this and Gleeson is able to give us just that through a perfect mix of initial awe and amazement, but also wary speculation as more and more is revealed to him as the film goes on. Yet for as decent and upstanding as Caleb is, Nathan is just as arrogant, misogynistic, and even frat boyish to a certain extent. Indeed in the more than immensely talented hands of Oscar Isaac, we get a character who is intriguing in how he feels only he can conjure up the most seemingly human robot in the world even as we see that by isolating himself he has forgotten to a certain extent what it means to be human himself. Suffice it to say that in anyone else’s hands this guy would have been a one note and run of the mill-type character that we have all seen a million times, but who in Isaac’s hands becomes a complicated person. This is because yes as more and more is shown to both us and Caleb we know we are not going to like Nathan that much by film’s end and yet as arrogant and cold as Nathan is, Isaac still manages to give us little moments scattered throughout (like the disco scene for example) where you can’t help but either smile or appreciate what Nathan is bringing to that distinct moment in the film and a lot of that has to do with not only how this slice of cinema’s scribe described him on the page, but in the electrifying work done by Isaac to bring him so vividly to life. Yet even with the wonderful work done here by both Gleeson and Isaac, perhaps the most noteworthy performance in this without a doubt has to come from Alicia Vikander as the robot Ava. Indeed in Vikander’s hands Ava is no Terminator who just has no qualms about killing left and right. Rather, I feel that this robot is one that is more on the level of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey in that whilst yes it is significantly likely that this robot is one that knows more than you and always will among other things that could be a spoiler, it also is operating in a manner that reminds you more of a child. Not only in regards to Ava’s immense curiosity about the world, but also in how she displays emotions and how she chooses to respond when she feels like she is being threatened. Suffice it to say that the balancing out of Ava’s simultaneous naivety and all-knowing truly is a difficult balancing act to pull off, but Vikander does it in a way that helps her give not only a great performance, but also gives audiences one of the better robot characters in the world of cinema of the past 2 decades hands down.

All in all I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: this slice of cinema might be a cautionary fable that manages to brilliantly mix together intelligent sci-fi with a degree or two of unnerving terror, but perhaps the component to Ex Machina that sends a shiver or 10 down my spine the most is just how realistic this distinct narrative really truly is. Indeed it is not that difficult by any stretch of the imagination to see a series of events like the ones that occur in this slice of cinema actually potentially happening one day in the world around us. Suffice it to say then that bolstered by wonderful work behind the camera and a trinity of powerful core performances in front of the camera, Ex Machina proves to be a riveting directorial debut for iconic writer Alex Garland that also happens to be a must-see slice of cinema for everyone from the sci-fi enthusiasts all the way to those of you who have even a remote interest in one potential path science might take us by the hand and walk down with us. On a scale of 1-5 I give Ex Machina “2015” a solid 4 out of 5.