By Octavio Karbank
Great science fiction should have you asking questions even after the final credits have rolled. Upon leaving the theater not only should you be left capable of having a coffeehouse conversation, but you should also want to, as you explore the nature of the film you just watched. And so we arrive at director Alex Garland's Ex Machina.
Getting a good sci-fi movie nowadays can be tricky; especially since superhero films are taking over the genre. Ex Machina, while it might have a flaw or two, approaches the subject of artificial intelligence in a way true to the roots of the stories that have come before it. Similar to its predecessors, like I, Robot, Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, or any other golden age sci-fi story that explores what it means to exist and have consciousness, Ex Machina tells a story that although familiar, revels in its ability to offer something new and engaging. Simultaneously, Garland artfully maintains the pulpiness that occasionally trickles into the genre.
When it comes to the theme of androids and philosophizing as to whether they are alive and what it means to exist and have a consciousness, a clever storyteller will often find ways to make the viewer question their own perception of the nature of reality and truth.
The movie's protagonist Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, gets brought to a top secret research facility, inhabited only by the binge-drinking scientist Nathan, Oscar Isaac, and his lovely, mute, Japanese assistant Kyoko. Caleb soon discovers Nathan summoned him in order for Caleb to test Ava, played masterfully by Alicia Vikander, a beautiful android created by the emotionally erratic genius to see if she can pass the Turing Test.
What follows is nothing short of creepy and mesmerizing. Every character seemingly has their own agenda and important questions start getting asked along the way. Questions of morality, love, and existence dominate the movie's ethos. Good and bad, right and wrong, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the villain, as everyone in the movie believes wholeheartedly in their actions. Yet the film's characters are perpetually playing cat and mouse with one another to see who will slip up first.
The lines become further blurred once Caleb finds himself slowly falling for Ava. One of the many problems Caleb tries to discover, all the while being watched like a lab rat by Nathan and his many cameras, is whether she in turn is capable of love and emotions or merely capable of simulating them to try and come across as human, thereby "passing" the test set before her.
To get a better sense of the movie's tightrope act, i.e. balancing serious drama with occasional, albeit purposefully awkward humor, watch the following clip. Completely impromptu and thrown in because I guess Garland said something along the lines of "why the hell not?," even a seemingly random moment like this one, only helps Ex Machina positively radiate and promote a nearly farcical nature. From a tense and serious moment to all the sudden funny and bizarre, I, along with the rest of the audience, could only gasp in amazement as we all became wonderfully befuddled.
Exploring the plot any further would be entering spoiler territory and Ex Machina deserves to be experienced in its entirety rather that get laid out play by play. What transpires throughout the film is like a sci-fi version of Heart of Darkness; the further down the rabbit hole Caleb goes, more and more nightmares emerge from out of the shadows. The movie's central tone, minus the couple oddball moments, can only be described as ominous. From the very get go, the audience realizes something is off. The interactions between Caleb and Ava are eerily reminiscent to those in 2001: A Space Odyssey between H.A.L. 9000 and Dave. Only this time around H.A.L. is an attractive android that may or may not be manipulating her human tester.
If you're on the prowl for good sci-fi, Ex Machina will be your thing. There are a couple instances that come across as goofy, as we get one of those "I-know-you-know-but-did-you-know-that-I-knew-that-you-knew?" scenes, yet it's also pretty awesome. Once the movie ends, you'll need a while to take in everything you just witnessed.
Octavio Karbank is a writer and bona fide Whovian. Living in Massachusetts, you can find him on Twitter @TymeHunter and his blog www.cozmicventures.com