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EX_MACHINA: Intelligent Artifice

Updated on April 27, 2015

To summarize the new film by Alex Garland featuring Oscar Isaac: ‘Instant Cult Classic.’ It has the hallmarks of a cult classic: an attractive AI, nerds in an isolated wonderland fantasy house, nerds discussing programming code, “stinkin’ badges” and secrets, loads of secrets. However, EX_MACHINA is much more than a cult film; it is a thoughtful piece of art that doesn’t give us pat answers to intriguing questions about humanity, life, love and ethics. It does what science fiction movies require to be great: it entertains and makes us think.

The film extolls male nerdiness while also laying to bare all the foibles of surviving on your intellect alone. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), boy genius now adult, lives in an isolated lab where he experiments with new advances in artificial intelligence. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, an employee in Nathan’s company and also a nerd, but not a genius. Then there is Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. All three actors give us wonderful performances; however, Vikander’s performance is the most complicated. She is the most transparent in many ways, but the workings of her mind remain a mystery. Unfortunately, I see a bunch of middling romantic comedies in her near future where she plays a nearly vacuous beauty instead of a complex character that will challenge her and entertain us.

Nathan shares a drink with his employee.
Nathan shares a drink with his employee.
Ava and Caleb spend time together.
Ava and Caleb spend time together.

Oscar Isaac plays Nathan as a magician, using misdirection and beguilement, playing one hand off the other. And Isaac succeeds brilliantly in this role. At times, we don’t know whether he is brilliant or a buffoon, and Nathan wants it that way.

From the beginning of the film, there is a luminescence around the images, as if we are in a dream. That effect gets more pronounced as the film progresses. It is a great looking film reminiscent of 1970s science fiction movies like ‘Logan’s Run’, ‘THX1138’ and ‘West World’. However, the film is not dated looking in anyway. It takes the 70s palette and modernizes it for us. Some critics have pointed out that the film is like a souped up Twilight Zone episode. I found it more like a ‘Outer Limits’ episode; the show did some very intense episodes on androids.

As for the director and writer Alex Garland, he’s gone for the big bucks in directing the big budget ‘Halo’. Let’s hope Garland, who also brought us the intriguing ‘28 Days Later’, can bring some humanity to the sci-fi SPS game film genre. I doubt he can, and I fear he will become another director who gets swallowed up by Hollywood and big money like Wolfgang Petersen who once directed the classic ‘Das Boat’ and then did the mediocre (I’m being kind) ‘Troy’ and the passable ‘Never Ending Story.’ Let’s give Garland his due while we still can for this entertaining script and film. Yes, yes, we all have to make a living, and I don’t begrudge him that. But I don’t remember Kurosawa, Hitchcock or Scorsese doing films just for the big dollars. The times have change, certainly.

Caleb taking in his new lodgings.
Caleb taking in his new lodgings.

The music must have been great, for I barely noticed it; it was sparse and reserved, the way film music should be.

Rating: Pay full price, see it twice.

I know I missed some of the deeper, more subtle meanings in the film, and one day I will see it again and learn more. Perhaps I can invite my own Ava out on a date to see it.

Tex Shelters


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