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Movie Review: Ex Machina 

By Jason Ooi

Isn’t it strange? To create something that hates you?

Somewhere in a secluded refuge from society, where the waterfalls meet glaciers and rain forests blend in congruence with regular forests, the next piece of the evolutionary chain is birthed. From the mind of a self-declared “Prometheus”, Nathan, CEO of Blue Book, the film’s equivalent to Google, incites fire into the next rung of humanity. Meet Ava.

The film follows Caleb, a young, low-level programmer in Blue Book, who wins a contest granting him entry into his CEO’s private and secluded estate. It is there that he is told what the true purpose of his unprecedented visit is- to act as the human proponent in a Turing test with the world’s first successful artificial AI, a dreamlike Ava.

While most science fiction films have undergone a more blockbuster route, favoring action-derived thrill to attract larger audiences, Ex Machina stays true to the genre with a legitimately intelligent script that raises true and fascinating insights into things like captivity, and the insecurity of Man, both when faced with Woman, and replacement from the inevitable grasp of evolution.

The film, as self-aware as its main female protagonist, sees plot holes and irrelevant theories and stamps them out with a vindictiveness that keeps the story on track and focused, unwavering from its more central themes. It eradicates most glaring plot holes and leaves us with no fluff to distract us from the brilliant interactions in the film.

And that’s what makes this film so amazing- its ability to render what is basically the interactions of four characters infinitely fascinating and infinitely thought provoking. This is heavily in part due to brilliant performances all around. Oscar Isaac, who can do no wrong in terms of acting, does not add as much depth to his character as he normally manages to do (tragedy in Drive and Inside Llewyn Davis, ambition in A Most Violent Year.) He rather fills his scenes with a foreboding sense of acceptance that he is doing what’s necessary to speed up the process in which machine will someday replace Man. His character is shady and inappropriately funny, and perfectly captures the sense of mistrust that Caleb apprehends. Dohmnall Gleeson, another rising star who just seems to be great in everything and anything lately, also does a great job, exemplifying self-doubt the way only a lonely programmer can.

The true star of the film however, is the AI Ava, half human, half gray mesh and hardware. Alicia Vikander finds a perfect way to balance humanity with artificiality, creating a character that feels and looks so human, so innocent and childlike, that you can’t help but fall in love as well. It’s hard to remind yourself that you are watching an actress play a role, rather than actually being allowed the privilege to observe the progression of scientific inquiry. It is her performance, supplemented by brilliant and fascinating dialogue and revelations that makes every one of her and Caleb’s “sessions” so intense. I found myself getting goosebumps every time she spoke. How could something so lifelike be nothing but wires and gel?

But not only does the dialogue and conversation excel, but those contemplative moments of silence, those peaceful calms before the storm are so powerful as well. The score of the film is absolutely immersive, portraying ideas and emotions on their own. Harsh dissonance announces crises, and the soft, dollhouse music paired with Alicia’s innocent flirtations makes her seem nonthreatening and innocent like a young girl on the brim of maturity. All of this, added with the fluid and sweeping cinematography envelops the film in a singular sense of eeriness.

Ex Machina is the second film about artificial intelligence this year, and the more I think about it, the less intelligible the first one, Chappie, seems. The film is an original, thought-provoking, thrilling, ominous, suspenseful one that definitely passes my test.