Ex_ Machina

A con­scious ef­fort

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Dvd & blu- ray -

Re­lease Date: 1 June ( down­load OUT NOW!)

2015 | 15 | Blu- ray/ DVD/ down­load Direc­tor: Alex Gar­land Cast: Ali­cia Vikan­der, Domh­nall Glee­son, Os­car Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno

Don’t watch

Ex_ Machina alone. Not be­cause it’s scary and you’ll need a hand to hold. Not be­cause it’s funny and live laugh­ter en­hances the ex­pe­ri­ence. Not be­cause it’ll make you feel horny and… well, ac­tu­ally that’s a whole other can of worms…

No, you need to watch it in com­pany be­cause you’ll need to talk to some­body about it af­ter­wards. You could go on­line ( though you might not want to, con­sid­er­ing what the film has to say about search en­gines) but what you’ll re­ally want is a proper, full- on, talk­ing- over- ea­chother “… but hang on?” dis­cus­sion.

Not just about the is­sues raised in the film, ei­ther, but about is­sues with the film it­self. While the script grap­ples with big ques­tions of “What is con­scious­ness?” and men’s ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women, you may also have things to ar­gue over con­cern­ing whether the film is fem­i­nist or misog­y­nis­tic, in­no­va­tive or clichéd, left wing or right wing, or athe­is­tic pro­pa­ganda.

What’s be­yond dis­pute is that Ex_ Machina is one of the most exquisitely well- made low- bud­get sci- fi films ever pro­duced. The vis­ual artistry on- screen is stunning. Not merely in terms of aes­thetics but in the way the images have a nearim­pres­sion­is­tic qual­ity; the light­ing, pro­duc­tion de­sign, cam­er­a­work and ef­fects are as in­stru­men­tal in telling the story as the dia­logue and the ac­tors. Even if you don’t like what the film is say­ing, you have to ad­mire the way it’s say­ing it.

Caleb Smith ( Domh­nall Glee­son) is a coder at an in­ter­net com­pany who wins the chance to spend a week hang­ing with the com­pany’s celebrity multi­bil­lion­aire CEO, Nathan Bate­man ( Os­car Isaac), in his iso­lated moun­tain retreat. When Caleb ar­rives, he dis­cov­ers that he’s ac­tu­ally go­ing to be a part of an ex­per­i­ment. Nathan has cre­ated a new AI in the form of a beau­ti­ful fe­male robot, Ava, and he wants Caleb to see if she can pass the Tur­ing Test – in other words, when does Caleb feel he’s no longer com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a ma­chine pro­grammed to re­act in a cer­tain way but in­ter­act­ing with an in­de­pen­dent con­scious­ness? Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the fact that Nathan turns out to be a not- so sub­tly ma­nip­u­la­tive al­pha male.

In essence, the film is an ex­pen­sive episode of The Outer Lim­its with pre­ten­sions. It has just three ma­jor talk­ing roles, and is largely set in one lo­ca­tion. It takes an idea and it ex­plores it thor­oughly. Then it grafts on a thriller plot, be­cause that’s what stops the whole thing be­ing a philo­soph­i­cal ex­er­cise and turns it into a drama. The “when does a ma­chine be­come hu­man?” themes are familiar from dozens of sci- fi shows fea­tur­ing an­droid char­ac­ters with a Pinoc­chio syn­drome.

All of which may sound a dis­mis­sive de­scrip­tion, but the power of this film is in the way it treats the ma­te­rial. It’s a con­sum­mate low- bud­get film, mak­ing a virtue of its limited re­sources and spend­ing the money where it shows; if you’re go­ing to make a film about a beau­ti­ful AI you’d bet­ter make the AI look good, and Ava is mag­nif­i­cent. Even the lo­ca­tion of Nathan’s retreat – filmed in Nor­way – is breath­tak­ing. The way the majesty of the moun­tains and val­leys is in­ter­rupted by this piece of bru­tal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture says a lot about Nathan’s psy­che.

The in­tel­li­gent, of­ten witty script ad­dresses its ideas with a depth and in­sight rarely seen in screen sci- fi, and even the thriller plot is in­serted more el­e­gantly than is of­ten the case ( cough – Sun­shine – cough).

The char­ac­ters are also well­crafted and ex­cel­lently acted. On one level, you could dis­miss the two lead men as the two sides of the male psy­che – one driven by lust, the other more in­ter­ested in in­tel­li­gence – but

For once, the KwikFit me­chan­ics were baf­fled.

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