Latest posts by Alexander P. Garza (see all)
- Review: Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure (Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos) - October 30, 2015
- Review: Behavior (Conducta) - June 17, 2015
- Lorís Simón Salum and the Literally Short Film Festival - June 12, 2015
I began writing a review the other day for Ex Machina, but had to stop, take a couple of days to think it over, read a few interviews from the director, and finally make my way back here to write this review. Ex Machina is the directorial debut for writer Alex Garland, the writer of such films as The Beach, 28 Days Later, Dredd and Sunshine. Films that I love.
I went to see Ex Machina by myself on a Saturday afternoon. The theater was mostly empty, but filled enough to enjoy the experience with others. I went in not really knowing what to expect. I was thinking it was going to be something like Her by Spike Jonze. I expected a completely different ending. I expected the hero that I was emotionally invested in to overcome odds and come out on top in the end. That did not happen. I felt cheated.
After a couple of days, I’ve figured out why. This film was in no way supposed to have a happy ending, not meant to be a coming of age story, not meant to make me feel inspired. This film was meant to scare the living daylights out of me. To me, it’s a horror sci-fi film. Now, through this new lens, I’ll get on with the review.
The film starts off by connecting us to Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a star programmer working for the largest and most advanced search engine in the world. He has just won a contest at the office and the prize is to spend a week at the genius CEO’s remote compound helping him with a top secret project. He and we are taken to a remote futuristic underground compound in the jungle.
When he arrives, Caleb finds the CEO, Nathan, finely portrayed by Oscar Isaac, in the middle of getting some exercise with a punching bag. He is menacing, aggressive, an alcoholic, and a bit off. Caleb doesn’t trust Nathan from the get go, and neither do we. The set design and colors are beautiful. The compound is cold, clean, creepy and seems to take a life of its own.
Soon we discover that the top secret project is an artificial intelligence experiment. More precisely, Caleb is going to be testing an attractive female robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). They become friends through a series of sessions presented to us with title cards that read “Ava Session X”. We discover that there are frequent power outages, which are later revealed to be intentionally caused by Ava.
There is chemistry building between Caleb and Ava. They quickly move from getting to know each other to showing romantic feelings toward one another. Caleb is attracted to her and starting to genuinely care for her. During one of their sessions, a power outage occurs. During these outages, the cameras don’t work and a foreboding red light blankets the room. Ava seizes their moment alone to divulge that Nathan shouldn’t be trusted.
Later, after the session, Nathan assures Caleb that Ava is only using Caleb, because she’s been programmed to use any means necessary to escape. This is a big clue as to what’s to come that I honestly missed while watching it. Nathan has programmed Ava to do whatever it takes to escape the compound. If she succeeds, then he too has succeeded.
Caleb, instead of running away, obeys Ava’s gentle command that he stay where he is, while she goes and pieces together the rest of her exterior body- skin, hair, clothes. Once she is fully dressed, she begins to walk out, causes another power outage, thereby sealing the doors and locking Caleb inside the compound.
Ava escapes. Cut to Ava walking in the city. The end.
We are left with the thought that this could be our reality today. How many of these AI robots walk among us? How long will Ava live among humans before being found out? What will she do when she’s found out? Will Caleb find a way out of the compound? Will someone come looking for him or Nathan?
The acting was phenomenal. Domhnall Gleeson played an honest, intelligent, and sensitive Caleb with hope of finally finding love in an AI robot. Alicia Vikander plays Ava with grace, intelligence, and a through line that concealed multiple layers of complex emotions and intentions. She played a super intelligent robot with emotions, who was trying to seduce Caleb, in order to convince him to help her escape, in order to murder her captor, leave Caleb for dead, and find her freedom in the world. Oscar Isaac was equally impressive with his portrayal of an conniving sociopathic genius, with other complex layers of suppressed emotions and internal suffering taking the form of playing god, exploitation of sentient beings, and excessive drinking.
My final thoughts? Make sure you see this film, but make sure you go into it knowing that it’s not a sci-fi love story, but a tragic AI drama/sci-fi horror.
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