Garland’s “Ex Machina” Shines With Robots, Banter, and Betrayal

Film: Ex Machina
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, and Oscar Isaac
Rated R
Director: Alex Garland

   The term Ex Machina roughly translates to “From Machine, and derives from the Latin origin of “Deus Ex Machina” (God From Machine.) This week’s film is in fact called, “Ex Machina”, and it is about Robots and God Complexes. It’s funny that since the creation of the computer, it has been predicted that A.I. (Artificial Intelligences) is possible. We have heard it explained in theory from so many brilliant minds, including Alan Turing. We’ve seen A.I. in films masking itself in different forms of Good and Evil. The Good was Spielberg’s “A.I.”, the Evil was Kubrick’s HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Writer/ Director Alex Garland takes us a step further into the realm of the unknown with “Ex Machina”, but let’s find out if it’s any good....shall we?

   Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb, a programmer for a “Google” like search engine named BlueBook. After Caleb wins a company contest to spend the week with BlueBook’s reclusive creator Nathan (Oscar Isaac), he finds out something is a foot. Caleb didn’t “win” the contest, he was chosen, but for what? Nathan isn’t the man he appears to be, he is a genius computer programmer, but he is also an alcoholic inventor. Caleb was sent to Nathan to test Nathan’s invention, AVA, an android with A.I. Can Ava convince Caleb she has humanity and in turn prove Nathan’s a God? Or is AVA a cold calculating seductress?

   Why beat around the bush? “Ex Machina” may be the best film of 2015 so far. Not only is the idea for the film genius, but the execution is nearly flawless. When I review a film, I have a certain set of criteria I look at in order to grade it. First, is the story original (If it’s a remake/ reboot can it create a new identity better than it’s predecessor?)? Yes, this film is original. How original? It’s “Blade Runner” meets “Amadeus”, I know bizarre choices but it’s true. Second, do I believe that this is happening or could happen? Yes, honestly A.I. is one of my biggest fears next to clowns and Michael York’s botched plastic surgery. Lastly, are these the right actors for the film? Isaac and Gleeson are two of the finest actors we have working today.

   Gleeson has that Hugh Grant charm, and a bit of that Ewan McGregor Innocence. What I love about Gleeson as Caleb is his purity, which ultimately leads to jealousy. I mentioned earlier that “Ex Machina” is “Blade Runner” meet’s “Amadeus”, and I stick by that. “Amadeus” is an obscure film to think of, but trust me Gleeson’s Caleb is Salieri to Isaac’s Mozart. The inner turmoil Caleb goes through, watching that anxiety and doubt fill Gleeson’s face is spectacular. Caleb knows he’ll never be as smart as Nathan, as hard as he tries, but he thinks he can have more humanity....which is where he fails. Gleeson is hauntingly good as Caleb, sadly I fear that’ll be forgotten come award season.

   Oscar Isaac is hands down the greatest actor to come around in recent years, and Nathan is the role that proves that. Isaac is one of those raw actors, like Pacino or Newman. Whenever he acts you’re seeing him give his all. If Gleeson’s Caleb is Salieri, Isaac is most definitely Mozart. The parallels ls from that film to this one are slight, but eerily similar. Like Hulce’s Mozart, Isaac’s Nathan was a child prodigy who develops a weird sense of humor and heavy drinking problem. Also like Hulce’s Mozart, Nathan has a huge Messiah complex. The allusions to Man being the new God, and creating a Promethean situation that backfires are many in this film. All those themes of the film essentially rely on the shoulders of Isaac, with whom I was absolutely fascinated with. I had so many questions about this guy, what made him tick, why was he so enamored with Caleb, but those questions are never answered which fuels my fascination even more. 

   The man behind “Ex Machina” is none other than Alex Garland, a frequent collaborator with Danny Boyle. With Boyle’s help, Garland has successfully reinvented zombies with “28 Days Later” and made space terrifying again with “Sunshine.” Now Garland is working solo and raised the bar with “Ex Machina”. Garland constantly places his characters in lose-lose situations and explores their mindset. What he’s crafted here is a brilliant character study of two men pitted against one another because of a machine. The story is so simple, and unfolds like a stage play. Everyone has a purpose, no one person over extends their stay on screen, and Garland himself firmly establishes himself as a talented director.

   Last month I reviewed “Chappie”, and commented on how disappointed I was with that film. They had the opportunity to really explore A.I. and robotics and failed. “Ex Machina” is the film I wanted “Chappie” to be. “Ex Machina” is such a masterpiece, and I guarantee that once you leave the theater you’ll be thinking about it for days. It saddens me that Roger Ebert is no longer with us, because after he saw the 1998 film “Dark City” he was searching for another great Sci-fi film. I feel that “Ex Machina” would have been just what Ebert loved about cinema. “Ex Machina” is one of those films that will play in smaller theaters, but I urge you to seek it out.

scott kurlandComment