Ex Machina (2015)
Release Date: April 10th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alex Garland Actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Tiffany Pisani
lex Garland‘s “Ex Machina” is certainly thought-provoking – but the ideas invoked aren’t all intellectual. Captivating, albeit already heavily examined in cinema, concepts such as the creation of artificial intelligence and the subsequent ability to differentiate it from genuine humanity surface often – yet they frequently devolve into more tired science-fiction tropes of technology run amok or man vs. machine. What does it mean to be human? “Ex Machina” may provide some insight, but audiences will likely miss it for the more overt displays of programmer mind games, manipulative androids, and, of course, graphic female nudity.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for Bluebook search engine coder Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson): meet with reclusive founder and CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) for a one-week, top-secret assignment at his secluded mountain estate. Once there, Caleb discovers the sprawling palatial domicile is more research facility than retreat and that his mission is one of historic proportions. Tasked with performing a Turing test (the assessment of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligence equivalent to a human) on Ava (Alicia Vikander), a highly advanced humanoid A.I., Caleb is both stunned and intrigued by the robot’s physical beauty and its mastery over human interaction. But as mysterious power outages begin plaguing the compound and Ava imparts ominous warnings about Nathan’s intentions, Caleb begins to question his own humanity and the motives of his cryptic host.
“Lay off the textbook approach.” The most infuriating thing about “Ex Machina” is that, despite containing glimpses of positively absorbing moral quandaries concerning artificial intelligence, it’s only masquerading as a brainy picture. At its heart, it’s merely a sex robot movie. Instead of delving into the endlessly challenging arena of crafting and then containing a convincing human mind – in the form of a computer – and tackling the morality of governance that constitutes imprisonment or the termination of life, the film just wants to examine what a sex robot might do to escape mistreatment. In many ways, “Ex Machina” resembles “Splice” (or even “Species” before that), in that immense technological or biological breakthroughs are trumped by when, where, and at what point sexual interactions can take place. Is the 18-25 male target audience so important even for a non-mainstream, art house movie that intellectual examinations (identity, mortality, freedom) must give way to titillation and perversion?
The premise alternates between engaging and nonsensical. At the start, the mystery, the eeriness, and the thrills of investigating an island not too far removed from Dr. Moreau’s or the property of Jurassic Park (or Bluebeard’s estate) create a sensationally cinematic atmosphere. Late night activities and a highly restrictive security system allow the extreme isolation, the ulterior purpose behind the experiment, and the certain deceptions to thrive in a realm of otherworldly weirdness. But as incentives and intentions are revealed, the film becomes more and more incoherent and riddled with glaring plot holes.
Perhaps the most out-of-place design is that of Ava herself. In this futuristic vision of artificial intelligence, it’s not Ava’s brain that seems so advanced – it’s her body. For a machine to imitate human communication is one thing; for Nathan to build a robotic humanoid form that perfectly replicates human coordination, all motor skills, and skin/muscle movement is utterly unbelievable. 2013’s “Her” doesn’t seem so outrageous when compared to the physiology of Ava’s impossibly lifelike motions and cyborg construction. Even if she never spoke a word of dialogue (like her counterpart Kyoko, played by Sonoya Mizuno) she’d be completely credible as a real woman. And, of course, with the explicit nudity and implementation of sexuality, “Ex Machina” deviates sharply into a pleasure android notion (like Gigolo Joe or Gigolo Jane from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”) that can’t be shaken, even when compelling existentialistic aspects reappear at the climax.
– The Massie Twins