‘Ex Machina’ review: smart, thought-provoking film

By Klarize Medenilla

What makes humans human? Is consciousness strictly a product of biology? These are the questions novelist-turned-filmmaker Alex Garland asks in his directorial debut “Ex Machina,” a sci-fi drama that tackles a common cinematic theme: artificial intelligence.

But “Ex Machina” isn’t your mother’s A.I. film. There are no explosions or long-winded, overblown robot and human fight scenes. It’s an understated drama that’s strengthened by the small but mighty cast of characters and their varying interactions.

“Ex Machina” is a fascinating look into the possibilities of human consciousness, and it explores what it means to be human.

The story, which takes place in the near future, starts off with young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who codes for fictional search engine Blue Book, winning a week-long stay at the home of Blue Book’s reclusive, eccentric founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

Caleb is helicopter-ed to Nathan’s faraway estate located in the thick of an unnamed North American forest, hours away from civilization. His home is modern, complete with futuristic, smart technology, and it has everything one man needs and nothing more. Audiences soon discover that Nathan lives a lonely existence and is only accompanied by a strangely mute female servant named Kyoko (Sonoyo Mizuno).

Nathan soon reveals that the home isn’t a home, but a research facility. He also confesses the real reason for Caleb’s seven-day visit: to interact with a computer robot that Nathan programmed named Ava (Alicia Vikander), a hybrid moniker of Adam and Eve.

Nathan describes his proposal as an altered version of the Turing test, which asserts that a computer is considered intelligent if a person doesn’t know he or she is interacting with a computer.

Caleb is to have sessions with Ava in which they ask each other questions about each other, and, at the end of his stay, conclude whether he believes Ava is to be considered a successful A.I. model.

Caleb is almost immediately drawn to the beautiful Ava. As their conversations become more profound, we see there’s more to her than just simple hardware. She knows how to interpret human behavior and has the ability to place trust in worthy individuals.

After a few sessions, we see the film turn into a “Who’s testing who?” game for the viewer. Is Nathan testing Caleb? Is Ava testing Caleb? Or is Caleb subconsciously manipulating Nathan and Ava?

By the second act, it’s difficult to determine who’s trustworthy and who’s just toying with the others. We know someone is telling lies, but we’re not sure who’s initiating them.

Garland takes advantage of cinema’s current trends of robots and futuristic settings, but “Ex Machina” does something different. It opens up a discussion about where humankind fits on the trajectory of the evolution of consciousness.

Apart from being an A.I. film, “Ex Machina” works as a skillfully acted character study. At the beginning, we’re introduced to the quiet Caleb who is humbled to spend the week with his employer to whom he looks up to.

Then we have Nathan, whose natural confidence causes Caleb to agree to his every whim. Nathan is every bit a cavalier, genius millionaire, like an eccentric, low-profiled Tony Stark.

As the movie progresses, Nathan’s influence increases as Caleb’s sanity spirals. The lines between human consciousness and artificial intelligence become blurred.

But the unlikely force of the film comes from our robot heroine Ava. Her character develops from a na_Ò_àve newborn program to an insightful, ambitious mind whose mental strength is tested in the film’s unanticipated climax.

“Ex Machina” is a smart, thought-provoking and unpredictable tale with a denouement that doesn’t necessarily answer the initial questions but leaves the viewer wondering about the future of humanity.

“Ex Machina” is rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.

“Ex Machina” is in theaters now.

4.5 stars (out of 5)

Ex Machina

Courtesy A24 Films

Ex Machina

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