Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ex Machina

Short version: This is a twisted, tense, multi-layered exploration of what it means to be human. And it turns out, being human is not exactly the laudable goal we assume it to be. I highly recommend seeing this movie, though it is not one that requires a theater viewing. For those worried about it being horror, it is. But it is horror as Ray Bradbury or Rod Serling would write it.

Here's the plot: Reclusive computer genius Nathan (very well played by Oscar Isaac, who is apparently playing Apocalypse in the upcoming X-Men movie) invites code monkey Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, better known to most of us as Bill Weasley, though you couldn't see it in this role) up to his not-at-all-a-super-villain-lair hidden deep in the Arctic. What Caleb thought was a simple vacation turns out to be a test. A Turing test, to be precise, to attempt to determine if Nathan's latest version of AI can pass as conscious. And so Caleb is introduced to the AI Ava (Alicia Vikander does a superb job in this role).

Except, of course, that nothing is ever that simple.

Caleb quickly notes that this is not actually a classic Turing test. (Thank you, since this was an issue I had with the trailers.) And, in fact, he isn't entirely sure how to go about positively determining whether or not Ava is an AI. But that's not his main problem. He rapidly comes to the conclusion that Nathan is not being entirely truthful, and that there are all sorts of other tests going on. With a cast now consisting entirely of Nathan, Caleb, Ava, and the mysterious mute servant girl Kyoko, Caleb must solve not only a thorny intellectual and metaphysical puzzle, but a moral one as well.

Writer/director Alex Garland (probably best known for 28 Days Later) does an expert job at using the scenery and setting to really push the mood. He also weaves a tale that has you wondering at least once just who is really a robot and who is really human. The effects are mostly subtle, and used to exceptional (and occasionally creepy) effect.

As I mentioned above, I was getting a very strong Ray Bradbury vibe off of this tale. In particular, I was thinking of The Veldt. (If you've never read The Veldt go look it up right now. It's short, and awesome.) The tale is not really about the technology. And yet, the tale couldn't be told without the technology. It is all about crossing a threshold that strips away our illusions.

Also, the ending gave me chills. But you'll have to watch it to find out why. No spoilers.

I give this one a very strong "go see it" recommendation. However, it is a thinking movie, not an effects movie. As such, it can easily wait until you are in the comfort of your own home, where you can really think about what's going on (and rewind when the twists happen). Do plan to immerse yourself in the movie, though. This isn't a "put in on in the background while you browse the net" kind of movie. That's one advantage to seeing it in the theater. You can do nothing but lose yourself down the rabbit hole.

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