reviewed by Tom-Tom
Filmed SciFi usually has only one direction: action. Solaris is perhaps one of the only of recent memory to attempt to wax philosophical among the stars. I found it to be a quite ponderous and overly moody film. Ex-Machina is neither an action film nor a boring one. It has the feel of pure Sci-Fi as in the olden days when Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov gave their readers a situation, character, or environment, and tested it against basic conventions like a literary science experiment. There’s no limit of philosophy, morality, or technology conversations here. They are intelligent but not pornographically so. The scenes are rather short ending right before we want them to go on.
A young man Caleb has won a lottery and is therefore selected to join a billionaire CEO Nathan Banks (Oscar Isaac) at the former’s closed off estate in a mountainous region far away from anyone anywhere. Caleb’s arrival and introduction to the estate has a bit of Bram Stoker’s Dracula feel to it with the young man as Jonathan Harker, who has no idea what he’s stepped into. The Dracula feel continues as it seems that, for all of Banks’ sprawling property, it is currently populated by two people. One almost expects the many brides of Dracula to come out of the walls in a terrifying attack.
Banks as played by Isaac is an enigma. Sporting a shaved head with an out of control beard, (kinda like Zach Galifianakis in the second Hangover film), he is ebullient and friendly hoping to immediately get on a first name basis with Caleb, who awkwardly agrees. Imagine meeting the founders of Apple, Microsoft or Facebook, and being asked to call them Steve, Bill, or Mark right off the bat. Soon, Caleb’s mission is made apparent: he is to give a Turing Test to something Nathan has created. Now, a real Turing Test is a sort of double blind affair in which the interrogator (Blade Runner?) interviews a person and a machine separately via text or speech (more likely text in the 1950’s in which Alan Turing wrote a paper detailing the guidelines for the test). If the interviewer is confused about which entity is human and which is a machine, the machine is said to have passed the test. Here, instead, Caleb walks into a room and a freaking android, Ava with only her face, hands, and face visibly human, enters. All her moving , glowing, sparkling parts are showing in her arms, legs, and stomach. It’s an unreal experience. This isn’t Siri, folks. She has a wide-eyed fascination with Caleb, and she enigmatically answers his questions. We pass into the uncanny valley and flit between our own understanding about whether Ava is a robot or a person in robot attire. There are a series of sessions in which Caleb interviews Ava, and then talks about it with the disarmingly charming Nathan.
These conversations are exhilaratingly fresh and increasingly creepy. We the viewers feel manipulated into leaning one way as a result of being invited to lean another. It’s a unique sensation and it will probably necessitate multiple viewings to consider how one feels when watching the interviews irrespective of what happens at the end.
Emotionally, I’m just not sure of how I feel after seeing the film to the end. Hurt, shocked, as if the rug has been pulled out from under me. Intellectually, I really feel as if Ex Machina has much to offer in the way of conversation starters. The psychology of AI is a fascinating subject which I think Ex Machina brings to the foreground. I haven’t mentioned the music, which is synthetic techno, spare but beautifully appropriate completing the impact this film will have on all its viewers.