Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ex Machina (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Ex Machina

Author Alex Garland (The Beach) delivers a directorial debut with "Ex Machina," a vivid and thoughtful meditation on the science of Artificial Intelligence, the simulation of empathy through electronic means.

In addition to being a slick 1970s type thriller, it is more importantly, a commentary on what it is to be human.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a myopic computer programmer, suddenly wins a lottery, and gets a chance to work with the genius CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) , hard at work in an undisclosed location. Caleb is taken by a black helicopter to a verdant green mountain area, the unmapped Eden. After much walking, the young man spies a cinderblock fortress, which goes deeper and deeper under the rock.

Caleb meets an eerie person in Nathan. While at first he is quiet and unassuming, Nathan reveals himself to be hyperactive, obsessive and judgmental, brimming with a barely contained aggression, compulsively punching a bag.

Caleb's task is to conduct a test on a new android Ava (Alicia Vikander) and to report his studies.

The film has a quiet and easy motion, offering us little details like crumbs, sneakily and objectively, rather than spilling the beans. This gives us the rare ability to reflect upon each scene and every disturbing space.

In tone and flavor, "Ex Machina" borrows from many sources: the fictions of J.G. Ballard, and the classics "2001," "The Stepford Wives" and "The Island of Dr.  Moreau" for starters, but this does not cheapen the film, for the story has distinctive  spirit, coupled with a melancholy, yet quirky character that is uniquely individual.

Oscar Isaac is wonderful as a poignant and intimidating man of vision. Dark and hirsute, his character is a kind of ape in cyberspace. He is a man of total instinct, an iron ball of muscle and hair.

The concepts and revelations are striking enough, but the film excels even more in its production of a complete and insulated world, of a mind at war with Creation.

Tribal death masks hang on a wall, perhaps as trophies or perhaps as fetishes to the ego of Nathan himself as a half beast, half Steve Jobs inventor. In the kitchen, a picture of the premier Surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire is visible. In the study, a painting by Jackson Pollock hangs on the wall. Nathan is a man deeply unhappy with how the human realm works and he pines to remake it. Then as if by the touch of an iPad, he changes into a sexist Hugh Hefner, marooned on a libidinous neon isle, without import or meaning.

Ava yearns to be considered a person, although crafted by a bestial megalomaniac. Her lithe and curving body makes a sensual serpent. Even her bright blue tubing appears to pulse in seduction.

The first half of the film is designed to hook us in the manner of a Frankenstein Creepshow, while the latter segments pack the most punch, causing us to ponder as much as wince with some retro era scares.

This is a Passion Play for our century, illustrating the beginnings of a Life anew.

Regardless of the era or level of technology, the moral of "Ex Machina" seems to be that to be human is ultimately to be selfish.

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1 comment:

James Holder said...

This is a great review. I hadn't noticed the references to artists in Nathan's home. I loved your descripiton of him. It is perfect.

I loved the film and thought it was one of the most artistically made and thought provoking sci-fi films of recent times.

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