There are Future Consequences in ‘Ex Machina’

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CHICAGO – The title “Ex Machina” is a play on Deus ex machina, the stage/scenario term meaning god from the machine, or the basic happy ending. By cutting out the “Deus” in the phrase, the film is left with just the machine, and the humans.

This is a weird meditation, part indictment of a the megalomaniac worship of technology, and a path towards what that ultimate tech – the creation of androids that look like human women – would feel like in the real world. Two men face off in this story, the strange Bill Gates-like creator of the androids and the nerdy technician plucked from obscurity to test the “waters” of the electronic beings. Sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later…”) makes his directorial debut with an incendiary and ultimate touching allegory on interconnection, the blowback from playing God (or Dr. Frankenstein) and even the image of women’s bodies, as created by a man.

The film opens with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) getting a notice at his computer programming job that he has won a lottery. His prize is to spend a week at the secluded mountaintop manor of the reclusive tech company owner he works for, a wealthy genius named Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When Caleb arrives, he finds out the real reason he has “won” the trip.

Alicia Vikander
Ava (Alicia Vikander) Contemplates Her Face in ‘Ex Machina’
Photo credit: A24

Nathan has come close to perfecting an artificial intelligence [A.I.] robot android, and needs Caleb as an outside subject to administer a “Turing Test” (interaction with the androids, who all look like beautiful women). As the days go on, Caleb and the android Ava (Alicia Vikander) become closer, and Nathan becomes more overwrought. Planning an escape from the lair may prove compromising for both the android and the human.

The confining elements of the secluded manor add much to the claustrophobia of the situation. Caleb is trapped with the mercurial Nathan in the remote place, with no access to the outside world, plus Ava and her android colleagues are victims of their own burgeoning perception. Both the human and A.I. consciousness are cornered, which writer/director Garland deftly uses as a comparison and a commonality. The truth shall set them free.

The cast hit their notes with perfection. Oscar Isaac, who may be fast becoming this generation’s “Man of a Thousand Faces,” is unrecognizable as the bearded and frenetic Nathan, and creates the character through a series of intensities that eventually motivates the atmosphere whenever he is on the scene. He even does a bizarre dance, which is funny and unsettling. His role is a combination of prime mover and wet blanket, that work oddly and callously in sync.

Domhnall Gleeson is nicely mysterious as Caleb, and as his backstory unravels, keeps adding layers to the persona. The stereotype of the tech nerd is the first expectation, and by the end there is nothing expectant about where the character will go. Although he is much less showy than Isaac’s fiery Nathan, Gleeson still manages an impact, especially as he “falls” for Ava.

Dohmnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Caleb (Dohmnall Gleeson) and Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in a Scene from ‘Ex Machina’
Photo credit: A24

And how about Alicia Vikander as Ava? The Swedish actress is working her way up the ladder by turning in performances like this one, giving the machine a collection of reactions that cooly builds conscious thought throughout her journey and survival. The actress has an allure that she uses to define the character, and makes an important statement – through Alex Garland and her performance – about how the body image of how she is “built” becomes the means to an ultimate end for her and her creator. Those are the depths that make this film endlessly fascinating.

The film also allows us to observe ourselves through the concept of how we would build our “reflections” in an android form. Like the previous excellent film exploration of this theme, 1982’s “Blade Runner,” that reflection comes with several cracks in the mirror, and many emotions that have to be served.

“Ex Machina” has a limited release, including Chicago. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Dohmnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno. Written and directed by Alex Garland. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2015 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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