Ex Machina makes artificial life look lovely

The newly released sci-fi thriller Ex Machina captures and stimulates the imagination on so many levels.

The premise is simple, but I warn you – writer/director Alex Garland has much more on his mind as he deftly navigates the filmgoer through the windowless corridors of his evil genius’ lair.

Software coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at Bluebook – a popular search engine company a la Google, with the power of IBM and intrusiveness of  Facebook – has won an in-house company contest to spend a week with the company’s reclusive founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his private Alaskan compound in the middle of nowhere.

Caleb is clearly intelligent and painfully single, geeky, nerdy and in apparent need of female companionship – human or otherwise.

Nathan, a heavily bearded eccentric genius with a bulked up body of a mixed martial arts fighter, possesses the massive ego of a Jobs and a Zuckerberg. In his highly secretive post modern lab, Nathan has developed the latest in female androids.

Nathan has chosen Caleb to interview and assess Nathan’s latest creation, the almost life-like female robot, Ava, as to the level and sophistication of Ava’s artificial intelligence.

Ava, played by beautiful Swedish actress and dancer Alicia Vikander, is clearly an artificial creation, very far from the pneumatically perfect dream girl cyborg Kelly LeBrock of John Hughes’ Weird Science.

Ava possesses Alicia’s beautiful face atop a sexy silver, mesh-like exoskeleton which clearly discloses her inner wiring and other bells and whistles.

Yet over the course of a few days, the lonely Caleb gradually falls in love with Ava. Ava in turn confides to Caleb her loneliness, her desire to be free, her suspicions about her creator and her apparent yearning for Caleb.

Or does she?

Has Nathan programmed Ava to be cunning, empathetic, loving and sexually attractive to Caleb, or has Ava developed these human-like qualities on her own in learned response to Caleb’s needs and wants – and to her own confinement?

Nathan appears in complete control of his environment, his Ava and his beautiful but silent Asian girlfriend. The writer/director Garland clearly poses the question as to whether man can ever be truly in control – of his employees, his lovers or even of his own artificial creations?

Garland also raises important questions about what we as Google users or Facebook friends, sacrifice in terms of our personal information, privacy and identity and control of our lives to the Nathans or Zuckerbergs of the world.

The film drags a bit, in the middle, as Caleb interrogates Ava, exploring his relationship with her as Ava learns more about Caleb.

But don’t despair, the film ultimately takes a few very interesting twists and turns, and what was initially an apparently misogynistic fembot fantasy becomes a thrilling feminist revenge flick.

Hooray for Girl Robot Power!!!

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