Ex Machina (2015)

(Netflix Streaming, October 2015)  Many recent science-fiction movies are probing the uncomfortable notion of humans being replaced by their creations, but few have the nerve to do so as deviously as Ex Machina does.  At first, it seems like a familiar kind of film: A young man is brought in to a remote location to administer a Turing Test to a freshly-developed Artificial Intelligence.  What could go wrong?  Oh, we know the answer to that question.  But Ex Machina goes there through unexpected paths: It stacks the deck against its lovelorn examiners by featuring a robot optimized for sex-appeal, bypassing higher cognitive functions by going straight for base instincts.  (Much as I loathe to admit my robosexual fetishes to the world at large, Alicia Vikander is here far more attractive as a visibly artificial character than when she dons a dress and wig to pass as human.)  Oscar Isaac turns in another terrific performance as a mad genius combining technical skills with in-your-face arrogance.  (The dance sequence alone is instantly memorable)  Domhnall Gleeson is just as effective as the audience stand-in, a young man who doesn’t even realise the extent to which he’s being manipulated.  But the mastermind here is writer/director Alex Garland, who direct a great first film from his own tight and mean script.  There’s a deceptive simplicity to Ex Machina’s surface that hides a lot of philosophical allusions, well-explored ideas and contemporary fears.  The result maximizes its secluded location and small cast to present a great science-fiction film, unnerving from beginning to end and very successful in what it manages to achieve.  It’s a surprisingly raw treatment for a cerebral subject, and it’s a sure-footed modern classic about a well-worn SF trope.

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