Sunday, May 10, 2015

Syan Vs Movies: Ex Machina

As this is my first movie review here in the No Kayfabe Zone, I want to preface that, unless I note otherwise within a review, I never give out any real spoilers for a film, just set up and character moments that are interesting. I also do not like to give score ratings for movies, a la 3/5 stars or B+, because I would rather describe how I feel about the movie at the end and note if I would rewatch it.

Caleb, Ava, and Nathan
Who do you trust?

Any movie that has a principle cast of only three characters has a huge hurdle to jump as far as keeping the audience entertained. All of the actors need to captivate and own their screen time. Some of the best performances people have given are under these circumstances, such as Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Ryan Reynolds in Buried, and James Franco in 127 Hours.  There are also some of the most boring films if the actors aren’t given much to do, such as the terrible Open Water. Luckily, Ex Machina is amazingly well-acted.

The film opens with our main character Caleb, a computer programmer played by Domhnall Gleeson, winning a company contest to travel to the CEO’s private island and spend a week with the reclusive genius, Nathan, who is played by Oscar Isaac. As soon as they meet each other it feels like the testing is in full force. Their conversations are intense, as you decide how you feel about each man and try to guess who is telling the truth.

The movie takes its focus once Nathan reveals to Caleb that he has created an A.I. and wishes for Caleb to be the human component of the Turing Test, evaluating if he believes the A.I. is indistinguishable from a human being. Now we are introduced to Ava, portrayed by Alicia Vikander, the A.I. who Caleb must get to know over seven sessions.

I was just lying here, deciding if I'm gonna be a Vision or an Ultron

Of course, as a movie about Artificial Intelligence, it has a pretty predictable set of options for how it could turn out, but it’s incredibly crafted to make the audience unsure of whether Ava is more Bicentennial Man or more Skynet, that is to say, is Ava just trying to be human and value her own life, or is she going to see herself as above humanity because A.I. are superior.

The movie takes a lot of its cues from Frankenstein, whether it is Caleb commenting that Nathan’s work is Promethean (just like Dr. Frankenstein was the Modern Prometheus), or Nathan thinking of himself as a god, the Creature, aka Ava, being very intelligent and hating her creator. Nathan takes cues from the original Prometheus, who had his liver pecked by an eagle as punishment for bringing fire to humanity, as Nathan punishes his liver with night-after-night of getting black-out drunk, but his “fire” is the gift of artificial man-made life.  Nathan views himself highly. He misquotes Caleb saying “If you created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man, it is the history of gods,” to “if you created an A.I., you’re not a man, you’re a god,” and ignores when Caleb tries to correct that that is not what he said.  Ava has serious divisions from Nathan, even saying “Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”  Ava uses her time with Caleb wisely, asking him as many questions as he asks her while performing the Turing Test.  This is best illustrated in their second session when she says she should be able to learn about him as well, and he asks what he should talk about and she responds, with sarcasm you wouldn’t expect from a robot, “It’s your decision. I am interested to see what you’ll choose,” which are the same words Caleb told her in their first session.

Ava is the most studied character in the film, and the one you seem to understand the least. It’s fascinating to see them take that approach, following the idea that an A.I. would be beyond our comprehension.  Nathan is complex, certainly, but relatively simple to break down: a rich genius with god delusions. He likes to control everything around him.  Caleb, we are presented in a way where he is our eyes. He is our everyman thrown into this situation, but as they reveal within the story, he is NOT our everyman. We just relate to his surprise and timidity to be introduced to a billionaire’s island and meet with an artificial intelligence.

The film also handles the “Chobits” issue of potential love, both emotionally and sexually, with a robot, and it does so very well. Caleb is driven by emotion. Nathan is driven by satisfaction and gratification. Yet, we don’t know what drives Ava or how she feels about love. The events to discover how each of them reacts are intriguing.

How long have you been standing outside my door?

Since the original Turing Test is meant to be if you can interact with a machine and not realize it is a machine, while Caleb knows from the start that Ava is a machine.  Nathan says that they are beyond the Turing Test and claiming that he wants to know if Caleb can know she is a machine, but feel that she is human. Due to the fervent pace and tone of the movie, you aren’t sure if he is telling the truth. You don’t know if Ava is the only A.I. on the island. You are left unsure about everything, which makes you less able to predict the route the movie will take, despite the typically predictable paths of an A.I. film.

Ultimately, Ex Machina is a great movie. The script is fantastic and thought-provoking. The acting is stellar, and it leaves no surprise that these actors are already being sought for major movies such as the new Star Wars and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  The setting is beautiful, whether it is the shots of the lush island Nathan owns, or the claustrophobic feel of the bunker where most of the film takes place, the setting is powerful. More than anything else, however, the movie has a tone which is made to keep you on the edge of your seat. A character-driven, mostly conversation-based setting gives you as much panic and worry for the characters as when the film’s eventual action sequences kick in. Ex Machina is not a movie I would watch over and over again, but it is something I would definitely show to friends when asked about a great thriller. I highly recommend it and think it is worth buying on bluray.  

Short review: It’s really good, watch it.

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Look into other Syan Vs Movies reviews:  Tale of Princess KaguyaPitch Perfect 2Mad Max: Fury Road, and San Andreas

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