Ex Machina (2014) — Android passes the Turing test

“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”

Justin’s rating: Dude, we’ve had perfect androids since the ’60s in Star Trek

Justin’s review: Being into scifi almost all my life has conditioned me to expect androids — maybe even in my lifetime. But while I would’ve loved this as a kid — having Next Generation’s Data as my bestie, for example — as an adult it low-key terrifies me. I don’t think I ever want to see an android good enough to fake being human, nor know that they’re roaming the streets.

Ex Machina plays more to my adult fears than my childhood desires. “Bluebook” employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to spend a week at the remote compound of the company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac and Oscar Isaac’s thick, barbaric beard). There, he’s invited to test out Nathan’s greatest creation: a female android named Ava (Alicia Vikander).

The slightly awkward but smart-in-his-own-right Caleb goes through a number of sessions with Ava, getting to know her and to see if, as Nathan put it, he can come to appreciate her consciousness even knowing and seeing that she’s artificial. It’s Turing Test: The Movie.

This would be all well and good if it wasn’t for the slight warning signs that ping almost from the start: Nathan’s distrust of others, Nathan’s megalomania, Nathan’s drinking habits, his compound’s remoteness, Ava’s uncanny ability to flip an interview around, the building’s frequent power outages, and the mute house attendant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). The horror movie watcher in me was screaming “Dude, get OUT of there” from the start, but as we find out, this is a perfect trap for this nerdy employee.

Ex Machina embraces the more cerebral side of scifi, what with heady questions of “What does it mean to be human/sentient?” and lots of delicious symbolism and homages of ancient stories, from Bluebeard to Prometheus to Frankenstein. And, yes, you can engage with it on that level and probably get a lot out of this.

But sometimes I like to be more basic in my movie viewing — to watch something to simply experience a story from start to finish and possibly feel something about it. I don’t care if that’s the “wrong” way to hit this movie up; I sat back and soaked in its weirdness, tension, and day-after-tomorrow technology.

From that angle, Ex Machina is… fine? Perhaps a little full of itself as it trundled toward a conclusion that couldn’t end well for these people (or robots). Caleb in particular is off-putting and thick-headed, and it grated to have him at the center of this mystery/romance/thriller. And that soundtrack… that soundtrack. It’s not going to let you rest easy at any point.

If you’re a fan of darker scifi themes — or a simply smart movie that’ll make you take a very long look at yourself in a mirror afterward, pop this in.

Didja notice?

  • Yeah just dump this guy out in the middle of nowhere with no welcoming committee… FIRST PRIZE!
  • Ava’s theme sounds a lot like the Close Encounters melody
  • Symbolic reflections
  • “You hacked the world’s cellphones?”
  • Ava’s got a wig collection
  • “Microexpressions”
  • Out of nowhere dance scene
  • The video camera backstories are decidedly creepy

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