Ex Machina Review
I saw Ex Machina a few weeks ago and I’ve been struggling to write the review ever since. My struggles are not because I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts on this movie. No, the movie is absolutely fantastic and there’s so much I actually want to say about it. The problem is, this movie is so good, I want other people to go in seeing it completely fresh. That means writing a review about this movie without giving away anything that could spoil it. Normally that wouldn’t be such a hard task. I do it all the time for other movies. Ex Machina is different though and its just hard to explain. The explaining the best selling points of this movie would inevitably spoil it. Hence my conundrum. I’m still going to give it my best shot.
The movie follows Caleb, a young programmer who works for Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine run by reclusive genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb wins a contest among Bluebook employees to spend a week with the reclusive genius owner of Bluebook. However, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the true purpose of the contest was to help him pick a tester that could aid him with his pet project: Ava, a humanoid artificial intelligence robot. Nathan tasks Caleb with putting Ava through the Turing test for artificial intelligence to see just how far the lines are blurred between man and machine. Caleb is forced to decide not only Ava’s level of humanity but his own as well as how trustworthy Nathan is.
If you look on IMDB this movie has a fairly decent list of characters however the majority of the interactions in this movie take place between three characters: Caleb, Nathan and Ava. The standout is Oscar Isaac playing Nathan. Isaac has really been setting himself ahead of the pack with his roles over the last few years in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year. He’ll be appearing later on this year in Star Wars The Force Awakens and next year he will take on the role as the iconic X-Men villain, Apocalypse. I’m sure he will be amazing in those roles but I have to say, it’s going to be tough to top his performance in this movie. The way he plays Nathan is more than your typical eccentric billionaire. It’s clear that director/writer Alex Garland was going for a mashup of the Dot-Com CEO. Isaac plays Nathan as almost an extroverted recluse. As the audience, you can never quite get what to make of him.We know he’s brilliant but you also get the sense that he’s manipulative and that he’s creating a narrative and story to trick Caleb. In contrast to Nathan, Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb appears as the typical “white knight” of the story. He’s supposed to be the moral center of the story. He’s tasked with determining if Ava can pass for more than machine but you begin to question if he’s more of a pawn in a game he’s too naive to realize he’s playing. Things pick up when Caleb starts realizing he might be getting played but he still doesn't know to what end. It's interesting to watch one person question and judge the humanity of another "person" and then begin to wonder if it's their own humanity that's in question. Alicia Vikander represents the wildcard in this whole movie. Is she true artificial intelligence indistinguishable from a human or is she just programed to trick Caleb into believing that. The great thing about this movie is that you constantly go between those two thoughts without really knowing until the end.
In addition to the obvious man vs machine debate, this movie also touches on some other 21st century philosophical debates. The company Bluebook is clearly a take on a combination of both Facebook and Google. Both of those companies have been at the center of the debate about privacy and this movie raises the stakes by basing the core of Ava’s artificial intelligence off of search engine logic. There’s even some discussion about mining cell phone data which was big in the news a few years back when major telecom companies admitted to have backdoors for the NSA. Add into this some of the discussions between Caleb & Nathan and Caleb & Ava and this movie not only has a great story but can spark some interesting debates.
Again, I feel like this review really doesn’t do this movie justice. I’m just torn between how much I can write and not give away too much. Right now Avengers Age of Ultron is destroying the box-office (rightly so) but if you’ve already seen that movie multiple times (like myself) or you just want something different, I highly recommend Ex Machina. It has some outstanding performances and dialogue and it’s under 2 hours.