Monday Movie Musings: Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina is a smart, uncompromising look at Artificial Intelligence and the pitfalls that come with it. This sounds boring, but under Alex Garland's deft hand, it is anything but. The scenes come in quick succession, more interested in showing you things that outright explaining them to you. The movie lets you read into characters and their motivations, all the while giving you a taut thriller as you begin to question everything you've seen.

Broken down to its base parts, the plot of Ex Machina is about a programmer for the biggest search engine, Bluebook, who wins a contest and is flown out to spend a week with the creator of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) quickly learns that he's going to be the key component in a Turing Test and is quickly introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot that Caleb is supposed to evaluate, and their sessions begin.

One of the things I find so interesting in this movie is that they actively skirt trying to answer questions about the how, instead they focus on the feelings. But, there are also moments where Nathan berates Caleb for letting his feelings take over. It's this sort of mixed messaging that provides the conflict throughout the story.

What I love about this movie is that it respects the viewer and lets you follow along, even as things spiral out of control. For instance, early on in the film, a power surge during an Ava session reveals that Ava doesn't trust Nathan and neither should Caleb. While the scenes are neutrally lit throughout, during power surges suddenly drape the building in this searing red. It instantly puts you on edge and adds a seriousness to the scene where it might not have existed before.

It also allows you to get lost in the madness, interpreting things and seeing how it affects the characters as the distrust grows even under intense scrutiny. Caleb grows distrustful of Nathan pretty much immediately and then you're left questioning what is really happening behind the scenes of this story, what exactly Nathan isn't saying when he getting shitfaced or is losing his shit about some petty mistake.

There is also an element of an unreliable narrator, but, at the same point, it doesn't stick with just Caleb's point of view and that allows the stakes to grow, the tension to mount as Caleb moves into a part of the house he's not allowed into, discovering the truth behind the matter.

There are plenty of reversals in this movie, a lot of them playing on your expectations of where the story is headed, then completely ripping them out from under you. I won't say it is flawless, but, with this and Sunshine now under his belt, he has become favorite science fiction writer/director. I cannot wait until his next story.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.