A conscious effort
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
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.