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Ex Machina

Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander

Ex-Machina is a film that wasn't even on my radar a couple of weeks ago. After its release I started to hear some buzz on podcasts and finally saw the trailer. I decided it was something that I had to see despite stories about AI not exactly appealing to me. It is not that where we are going with AI doesn't intrigue me, it is more that these the end game for these stories always seems to be asking the question what if AI caused the machines to become smarter then us and they took over the world. This is not something that keeps me up at night, in fact it is something that I find preposterous. Maybe I am too dumb to see it, in fact this is the most likely scenario. However from my perspective the machines are already smarter then us but of course they still lack the ability to reason. I don't see how this will be able to be overcome. Do I think we can teach the machines to reason? It seems possible to me but only to a point. The machines will still only be able to reason to the point that we allow them to. They will still only produce what we put in. Anyway enough about why these types of films don't usually appeal to my super finite mind, lets talk about what I like about Ex-Machina.

I don't think I will ever describe this movie as fun, or even as entertaining in the sense of it hitting pleasure points. What Ex-Machina is, is mesmerizing. It was made on a $8 milion budget but looks spectacular. Most of the movie takes place in billionaire CEO Nathan's home played by Oscar Isaac. Both the setting for the home and the home itself are brilliantly conceived. We are immediately immersed in this world with Caleb (Gleeson) and suddenly the outside world ceases to exist. Usually some of the stupid decisions made by a character as smart as Caleb would bother me but somehow here I was on board with Caleb almost till the end. When Caleb is invited to stay at Nathan's home for a week he is star struck and a more then willing participant in whatever Nathan has in mind for him. I can easily see myself being sucked into this situation. So when Nathan asks Caleb to be a part of a Turing Test for his new invention, he is a willing participant.

Enter Ava portrayed by Alicia Vikander. She is robot who has been given the gift of Nathan's newest version of AI. She is pretty but still very obviously an android. As Caleb interacts with her he naturally becomes more smitten then is healthy for a human interacting with a machine. It is obvious before you walk into the theater that the story will take this turn. I do wish Garland had fleshed out this aspect of the story a bit more. From the first session Caleb is taken with Ava in what seems an unhealthy way. I wish we could have seen a little more of how he gets from point A to point B. He does get there none the less, and where the story goes from there is both a spoiler and the point so I won't talk much about it. I will say I was mostly satisfied. I don't think the film is ever meant to have any huge moments or revelations. The journey mostly plays out in expected and subtle ways. I appreciate this about the film. It did however make me wish that there was more. It left me feeling like I missed something, like there is more to glean from the story then I was able to. Maybe that is the point and it will almost certainly have me giving this movie another viewing.

The performances in the film are really good all around. Isaac steals the show for me though. His character is what kept me intrigued throughout. Immediately he is an engaging character whose personality is easy to become enthralled with. There is something slightly off about him as there is with most geniuses. When they first meet Caleb makes a reference to the invention of AI being similar to being God. Nathan very quickly makes a reference to that and says more then once that Caleb called him God. This quickly and efficiently makes us understand his character and where the story is headed. I don't think audiences are going to care, and I certainly didn't. Garland and Isaac keep this character perfectly engaging. Like Caleb we have a feeling about Nathan but we still want to be him. We want to hang out with him. He is one of those rare people whose genius overcomes any faults that we may see. In case it is not obvious I really love how this character is written and portrayed. Ex-Machina is worth seeing for Isaac alone, even if none of the other aspects of the film appeal to you.

I highly recommend Ex-Machina. It is a film that I think those at MoFo are really going to respond to. It is more about the atmosphere and tone then it is the story. It has a really good tight script. It has three very good performances. It left me wanting more, so maybe my score seems a little low for how I am describing it. I will come back to it as it is a film I could see growing even better on re-watches. Once you know where the story is headed I can see myself gleaning more from the journey next time around.