Thursday Night Movie Club
Ex Machina
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Release Date: 10 April 2015

Director: Alex Garland
Domhnall Gleeson
Corey Johnson
Oscar Isaac
Alicia Vikander
Sonoya Mizuno
Claire Selby
Symara A. Templeman
Gana Bayarsaikhan
Tiffany Pisani
Elina Alminas
 Ex Machina movie poster Ex Machina movie poster Ex Machina movie poster
Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex MachinaPhilosophies from different movies merge in the excellent Ex Machina. The title refers to evolving from a machine into an ex-machine. The film blurs the lines between what is human and what is robot.

In the film "Jurassic Park", Ian Malcolm said, "You went ahead and did it without thinking if you should." He also said, "Life finds a way." In "Deep Blue Sea", Russell Franklin asked, "What does a 20 foot mako with a brain the size of a flat-head engine think about?"

Additional philosophies could include, Nothing in life is free. Why didn't I take the blue pill or falling down the rabbit hole is more like a worm hole. Also of note, there is no mention of Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics.

Computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the contest of a lifetime, spending an all-expenses paid week with recluse multi-billionaire Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb travels for hours by helicopter to Oscar's home/research facility. The place is an isolated paradise containing snow-capped mountains as well as lush foliage.

Sonoya Mizuno and Alicia Vikander in Ex MachinaCaleb's nerves are frayed as soon as the helicopter lands. There is no one to meet him. The pilot offers some assistance: This is as far as I'm permitted to land; keep low until you are clear of the rotors; go that way and follow the stream. Then he leaves Caleb alone. There had better be a facility nearby or Caleb is in some serious trouble.

Caleb's situation does not improve once he finds the complex. He is expected. A robotic voice welcomes him, prints out a key card and opens the door. The facility is stunning in its splendor and architecture yet the place is eerily silent. There is still no one to meet him.

Following the only sounds in the place, Caleb finally meets the reclusive Nathan. There is something just a little "not quite right" with Nathan. He is open and responsive to Caleb yet still secretive. The two get off to a shaky start before they do a mutually-agreed "reset".

Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson in Ex MachinaOddly, Caleb never asks the single most important question, "Do you live here alone?" After a short time, it is evident Nathan lives alone. What does living in isolation without human contact do to a person? Nathan is so secretive that he has no assistants. He has done all of the research as well as all of the hardware and software development. He doesn't want anyone to know what he is working on. He has Caleb sign a non-disclosure agreement that covers talking about anything, even after Nathan releases his research to the public.

There is a very good reason why Nathan is secretive. He thinks he has perfected his research into artificial intelligence. Nathan is so close to his own research that he has no idea if he has succeeded. He knows he needs an unbiased opinion of his work.

Caleb didn't win a contest based on luck-of-the-draw. He was selected based on his internet profile. His entire personality is online if one knows how to track and interpret the data available. This is the moment in Ex Machina when the science fiction elements take over the film raising the film above the level of the science fantasy of Star Wars and Star Trek.

Nathan, just like governments, companies, and marketing agencies, has "stolen" the personal data of millions of people around the planet. Nathan wrote his own program to collect and collate all of the data available in search of the perfect person: Caleb.

Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson in Ex MachinaNathan's only chance at proving his success is to perform "The Turing Test" on his android. The Turing Test was developed by mathematician/code breaker Alan Turing who built a computer to crack Germany's Enigma code in World War II. The test uses a series of questions to determine whether an "entity" is human or robot.

Writer/director Alex Garland has developed Ex Machina into a non-stop, ever evolving series of mind games. Nathan has cameras and mircrophones installed everywhere to observe his subject unobtrusively. At the same time, Nathan is studying Caleb. Caleb is observing and studying Nathan and the android. The android is studying Nathan and Caleb. Actually, the question is: Is the android capable of studying Nathan and Caleb?

Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in Ex MachinaMost of Garland's screenplay consists of simple yet complex philosophical discussions. At the heart of the discussions is the chess game analogy. A computer can be built to play chess. But, does the computer actually "know" it is playing chess? How do you know if the computer is actually thinking about its moves?

A better test would be poker. In the television program "Star Trek: The Next Generation", Commander Ryker always beats the android Data. Data is limited by the strict rules of poker and mathematical odds. Ryker isn't.

The screenplay is important to any film. The actors bring the story and characters to life. Oscar Isaac is fantastic portraying Nathan. Nathan's persona changes from one second to the next. Isaac has a dead-pan delivery of his lines. When Nathan tells a joke, he has to tell Caleb he is joking. When the two first meet, Nathan is recovering from the "mother of all hangovers". Caleb jokingly asks where the party was. Nathan replies, "What party?" Caleb is taken aback and has no response.

At one point, Nathan tells Caleb about the construction of his facility. He hired outside contractors to build the complex. The facility is plagued with random power outages. Caleb asks Nathan why he doesn't bring the contractors back to fix the problem. Since there are many trade secrets in the complex, Nathan calmly tells Caleb that he killed the contractors. Through Isaac's performance, Nathan is just looney enough to have really killed them.

Ex Machina takes another uncomfortable turn with the introduction of the android Kyoto (Sonoya Mizuno). Kyoto answers the question of what a man does with himself in isloation from human contact/interaction.

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb in Ex MachinaGrounding the story is Domhnall Gleeson's portrayal of Caleb. Caleb's role is to move the story along by asking the questions the audience would be asking if faced with the same circumstances. Gleason is wonderful in depicting Caleb's growing suspicions and paranoia. Caleb begins to wonder about his own humanity.

The paradox of Ex Machina revolves around the android Ava (Alicia Vikander). Vikander gives a truly stellar performance. As Ava, Vikander sits dead still moving only her head and eyes. She speaks in a monotone. Ava's speech patterns speak volumes. The pacing of sentences, words, even pauses between words or sentences coupled with how her eyes move, reveal a lot about Ava. Does this make Ava self-aware?

Caleb spends time conversing with Ava. Thanks to Gleason and Vikander, the two "appear" to be a couple of "normal" people getting to know each other. Reality crashes on Caleb (and the audience) when Nathan asks what he thinks of Ava jolting Caleb back into remembering he is dealing with a machine.

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex MachinaAlex Garland tells this story mostly through conversations. At strategic points in Ex Machina, the visuals are equally important. On his first night, Nathan switches on the television and is startled at what he sees. He has access to Nathan's closed-circuit cameras but without sound. He watches Ava "sleeping". Ava rolls over and looks directly into the camera. The following day, Ava tells Caleb she imagined Caleb was watching her, hoping she was right. More mind games?

Ex Machina contains some of the most ingenious plot twists in a film. During one outtage which shuts down the cameras and microphones, Ava says, "He is not to be trusted." Before Caleb can react to this stunning revelation, the power is restored. Ava picks up speaking in the middle of a sentence. When Nathan asks Caleb what happened during the outtage, the mind games take another shocking turn. Caleb lies and says nothing happened. Did Caleb just invalidate the validation he was hired to validate?

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex MachinaWithout ever mentioning the word, Garland cleverly brings up genocide. Ava wonders about her future. Will she ever be let out of the glass prison Nathan keeps her in while he conducts his experiments? When Caleb's evaluation is over, will Ava be destroyed?

Plot twist in film is similar to a con. Dangle a piece of information in front of a character/the audience. Let the character/audience make their own assumptions. Then explain that tidbit at a later time.

The final resolution in Ex Machina is a series of plot twists on top of plot twists that turn the story on its head. The mind games spiral out of control leading to Pandora's Box being opened. For reasons Nathan makes clear at the end, he couldn't tell Caleb everything. To prove Ava was truly self-aware, Nathan manipulated Caleb, Ava and the entire situation just to observe how both Ava and Caleb react.

Nathan meticulously planned for every possible contingency. Except, he failed to understand the power of human ingenuity.

Ex Machina also contains some truly touching, tender, emotional moments. In a sequence containing no sound, Ava discovers the previous versions of herself. Nathan downloaded all the data stored in the protypes's brain, destroyed the prototype and then built the upgraded version. All of Ava's predecesors are housed in separate closets. There is an emptly closet awaiting her. Vikander silently depicts Ava's emotions of curiosity, awe and foreboding.

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex MachinaAva walks down a hallway decorated with masks hanging on the wall. The last mask in the row is her face! The silent question asked, "How would anyone feel seeing their face plastered on a wall?"

Similar to the writings of Isaac Asimov, Alex Garland almost exclusively uses dialogue to tell the story in Ex Machina. Rod Serling would be proud of this screenplay. The cinematography and set design are stellar. A painting by Jackson Pollack becomes the centerpiece of one of the many philosophical debates.

Sound design, sound editing and music play important aspects of the story. There are long stretches of silence. At times, there is muzak playing in the backgrounds. At other times, there is the suspenseful "mood" music of the film's score.

Each element of the film's production is meticulously preplanned and executed. Surprises are found just around the next corner. If challenging films are your cup of tea, Ex Machina is a must see. Heck, the film is worth the effort just to watch Alicia Vikander. Enjoy!