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Ex Machina (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

EX MACHINA (2015)

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno

Written and Directed By: Alex Garland

The Shot

Ex Machina is a glossy, artsy take on the Artificial Intelligence theme that is best enjoyed without looking too far beneath its shiny surface.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

EXPENSIVE CHEESEBURGER.

The garnish and the fancy six-plus word name on the menu are very pretty, and may even cause you to put more thought into eating the cheeseburger, but it’s still a cheeseburger.


Pairs Well With...

MICROBREW.

Whatever you’ve got in the fridge that no one’s heard of.  If other people know about it, it’s not cool enough for a billionaire tech guy to get wasted on.

“Impulse.  Response.  Fluid.  Imperfect.  Patterned.  Chaotic.”


Artificial Intelligence.  If you’re Stephen Hawking, it leads to the end of humanity.  If you’re Hollywood, it leads to a whole lot of science fiction movie plots, often featuring explosions, and regularly threatening to bring about the end of humanity thanks to the diabolical intellect of a being that can process information billions of times faster than any human ever could.

But what if the artificial intelligence isn’t the real problem?  It is the exploration of that question – inside of a minimalistically decorated forest retreat populated by a very tiny cast – that sets Ex Machina apart from its plot-similar peers.

Doesn’t it?

In the moment of watching Ex Machina in the theatre, I enjoyed it.  As an audiovisual experience, Ex Machina is gorgeous: lush in its stylized austerity, and as such, well worth the price of admission for the theatre (as it would be in high definition at home).  The byplay between meek geek Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) and artificially intelligent Ava (Alicia Vikander) is intricately danced, and made all the more interesting to watch by the fact that for the majority of the film, they are separated by a glass wall.  And then there’s that oh-so-briefly-touched-upon explanation of how Ava’s artificial intellect came to be; it’s fascinating, frightening, oddly plausible, and quickly cast aside as a solid fact in a movie that doesn’t want to deal with solid facts so much as it does carefully controlled emotions.  And yes, those emotions are interesting to watch, too, however blatantly telegraphed they may be even when the script and camera swear that everyone’s wearing a mask.  (Obvious misdirections are extremely obvious and there’s no such thing as a surprise.  It is, after all, difficult for a red herring to do its job when there are only three fish in the barrel.)

Honestly, the biggest issue I had with Ex Machina in the moment of watching it in the theatre was Oscar Isaac’s beard, which plays pretentious alpha geek a-hole Nathan.  (The credits say that Nathan is played by Oscar Isaac entire, but nothing is getting past that beard, behind which pretty much anyone could have acted like a jerk to the exact same effect.  I don’t blame Oscar Isaac, mind; that’s the character as written.  Or at least the beard as written.  Or something.)

And then I left the theatre and started to do the thing that Ex Machina begs its audience to do: I started to think about it some more.  Oops.

Scratch at the frosted glass just a little bit, and…  And I’d have to spoil the already too-well-telegraphed climax to tell you what kind of been-there-done-that Ex Machina starts to look a lot like, though I can say that after all of the inquisitive build up that was the byplay between Ava and Caleb that I had so enjoyed in the theatre, the final few minutes feel pretty pointless as anything but a “yeah, see?!” type of exclamation.  I can also say that the basis of Nathan’s world reminds me way too much of the alpha male rapey garbage that there is just way too much of in Hollywood storytelling (including some though not all of writer/director Alex Garland’s previous work).

Is this to say that I now regret seeing Ex Machina, or that I can no longer recommend it to anyone?  No, it is not.  I’m always up for a movie that takes a stab at analyzing what it means to be sentient/human, and while Ex Machina doesn’t exactly break the new ground that its publicists would like us all to believe, it’s still an interesting story – at least until its final few minutes, when it is revealed that the existence of a point is debatable, but hey, it’s all about the journey, right? – and Alicia Vikander does deliver a dynamite performance.

It just means that I’m not in any rush to add it to the permanent library, especially now that I’ve subscribed to a streaming service.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2015


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