Sex, Death and Artificial Intelligence Clash in ‘Ex Machina’

Lee Polevoi

 

Ex Machina

3 stars (out of four)

A24

 

In Ex Machina, a new film by Alex Garland, a 26-year-old programming whizkid named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a company lottery. The prize? Spend a week at the remote and sleekly futuristic home of the company’s billionaire founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac), and conduct a test to determine if Nathan’s latest invention actually possesses the long-sought-after holy grail of science – artificial intelligence (AI).

 

The vehicle in which this AI allegedly exists is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a highly sophisticated robot whose stunning beauty is eerily amplified by mesh skin, assorted microchips, fiber optics and the softest digital hum caused by her every physical movement.

 

From his arrival at the wilderness compound (“not a house,” Nathan points out, “but a research facility”), we see this wondrously designed environment through Caleb’s wide-eyed perspective. It takes a little time for him to understand what’s expected of him, since Nathan is by turns playful, welcoming and obscurely sinister in their dealings. Ava, on the other hand, with her hushed tones and exquisite gaze, draws him into a conspiracy distinctly at odds with his purported mission.

 

From there, things spiral out of control—proof, in case we forgot, that creating life (or a reasonably close facsimile thereof) always comes with unintended consequences.

 

 

Ex Machina is well-paced, stylishly produced and beautifully photographed. With his shaved head, bushy beard and marmoset eyes, Oscar Isaac does an effective job of portraying a brilliant, yet increasingly deranged, man whose grand achievements in life and business do little to ease his troubled soul. All of the performances are convincingly persuasive, inviting and rewarding the viewer’s sympathy throughout.

 

The film takes its central issues very seriously, maybe too much so, with barely enough bits of humor to leaven the tone. And if some of the plot twists are a little too openly telegraphed—the cause of a recurring series of “power cuts,” as Nathan calls them, is fairly easy to diagnose—others catch us off-guard and help maintain our interest in this essentially narrow-focused story.

 

In the end, Ex Machina has a suitably claustrophobic feel to it, which most viewers—unlike Caleb and Ava, his would-be CGI-enhanced paramour—will happily embrace.

 

Author Bio:

 

Lee Polevoi is Highbrow Magazine’s chief book critic.

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