Sunday, 25 January 2015

Film Review: Ex_Machina

The phrase 'Dues ex Machina', in which novelist-turned-screenwriter-turned-director Alex Garland's debut film takes its name from. The term translateed from Latin into English to mean "god from the machine". Originating from a device that would elevate actors to portray them as Gods in Greek theatre. Garland creates a similar device to which elevate's Oscar Isaac's eccentric billionaire, Nathan, from the position of a human to a God and that device is Ava. Ava, played excellently by Alicia Vikiander, is the first ever AI and Domnhall Gleeson's Caleb, an employee of Nathan's Google-like Bluebook, has the job of carrying out a Turing Test on Ava to see if she has consciousness. But with every session with the beautiful Ava, Caleb begins to realise that he isn't in-store for an intellectual vacation but something far more sinister. 

Isaac's Nathan is Dr. Frankenstein via Willy Wonka for the iPad generation. He is a man that wants to deconstruct the boundaries between nature and technology, he wants to blur the lines between what it is to be man and what is it to be machine. He posses a Darwinistic belief about the creation, AI as the next step in evolution, it is inevitable. Nathan lives in a perfectly self constructed world, spending his mornings working out and his nights getting drunk, his only human interaction is with his assistant, Kyoko, who speaks no English. On Nathan and Caleb's first meeting, you question how long it has been since the recluse has had any interaction with someone. While Caleb is awkward and meek, when Nathan attempt to break the employee/employer relationship, he comes over as a man who doesn't understand human emotion, ironic for someone who is trying to replicate them. The relationship between Nathan and Caleb quickly turns into an intellectual battle between the Alpha male and Beta male.   

Ava, the joint creation of Garland and cartoonist Jock, is a CGI beauty. While she has a human, with human like hands and feet, the rest of her body is a mesh wire frame that plays on the sexualisation of the female body that is dominant in science fiction genre. The body attracts the male gaze, yet Ava's visible hardware is a constant reminder that she is a robot. As amazing as the visual effects are, it is Alicia Vikiander's performance that elevate's the role. Every move she makes is graceful and fragile, as if every movement is part of a dance. 

The spirit of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein haunts the film throughout, so it is no surprise Ex_Machina is a Frankenstein's monster of genres. It stitches together genre tropes of science fiction, psychological thriller and horror, drawing close comparisons with the likes of Her, Under the Skin and Blade Runner, yet it's closest relative is indeed, the 1972 chamber piece SleuthGarland makes sure we are never sure who is playing who, we spend the film questioning who has the upper hand and who is in control, misdirecting our assumptions. The director attempts, and succeeds at disorientationing and misdirecting us. One minute we think we have the plot solved and then we are thrown off kilter with another twist and then another and then another. Garland intellectually challenges us at every given moment. The pace of the film is relentless, aided by a subtle but pulse racing score, that at times sounds like the Jaws soundtrack remixed by Clint Mansel. 

The third act may leave some feeling cold as the emotional bridges built between us and the characters start to crumble but Garland's finale is a bold and confident conclusion to a thought-provoking and cerebral film. Ex_Machina is an exquisite and emotional piece of cinema, more Never Let Me Go than Dredd. Garland has created something that we haven't seen in a long time, a raw, emotional science fiction that confidently out thinks you while simultaneously provokes thought.    


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