Movie Review: ‘Ex Machina’

Ava pauses by her reflection.

I don’t know who to trust.

by Karina “Cinerina” Montgomery, staff writer

Cinerina Rating:Matinee Price
MPAA RatingR for language and graphic nudity
Release date4/10/15
Time in minutes108
DirectorAlex Garland

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for search engine megaplayer BlueBook and wins a contest to spend a week at the isolated home of its reclusive genius founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs). Nathan has built an AI program into humanoid form and wants Caleb to take her for a spin, Turing style. I’ve already said too much. Caleb arrives flying over rugged Norwegian mountains, weeping icebergs, and lush forests. Periodically, we cut back to this lush natural world, a generous break for our eyes but also a reminder of the chaotic and beautiful wild just outside Nathan’s rigidly controlled hallways.What appears at first blush to be a quiet drama about a human boy and a robot girl ends up being a tense contemplation of what consciousness and awareness really are. It’s more of an art film than a sci fi romp, but it’s a solid film that left me chewing over details in my sleep.


Do androids dream of electric sheep?

The ultramodern home (I think we can safely call it a lair) is as much a character in this film as the actors within it. Huge windows crowded with trees flood the bare concrete floors with natural light; frosted glass doors puff open when the correct key card is deployed. Natural stone formations swirl through sere rooms in frozen waves. The home is nearly devoid of ornament or pattern outside what leaks in from outside via the modern architecture.


The most decorated space in the house.

The AI, known as Ava (Alicia Vikander), is also a blend of natural and artificial. Her face, hands, and feet are soft flesh, and her warm brown eyes track Caleb’s over small half smiles. Her limbs and trunk are clear, with whirling lit-up bits that make a soft mechanical sound with every movement, giving her a more analogue feel than her ultramodern lines imply. Her wetware pulses in a glowing blue orb, and her honeycomb patterned “shirt” and “shorts” is repeated in her artwork. Vikander inhabits this character with a deliberate grace, suffusing Ava with the perfect blend of organic and imitative movement.

EX-MACHINAMuch of what happens here is visual; even when speaking, the faces and spaces say so much. The sparse score by documentary composers Goeff Barrow and Ben Salisbury frees up your processors to parse the layers of reflection and opacity. I loved the use of glass and all the hard walls and angles, and how we have a window into Ava as well as out to the world from this sterile hermitage. The men are contrasted visually: Caleb is ginger-pale, thin, unsure, gentle; Nathan is brutish, monochromatic, authoritative, vital. Nathan creates tension and Caleb tries to diffuse it. Ava is a soft-voiced innocent who has never left her room; Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the silent servant girl, seems more a part of the house than of the human race. Occasional power outages drench the facility in red emergency lighting, the only moments for warmth or honesty as the cameras go offline.

We go into the story wondering if Ava will pass the Turing test, and a slow burn of speculation and second guessing dogs us until the conclusion. Caleb signs a nondisclosure agreement upon entering the house, so do I wish to keep the story a surprise. Just know the result is a tense story with some terrific surprises and uneasy moments along the way.

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