Friday, April 24, 2015

Ex Machina [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Abus de Cine (F. Wullshleger) review*
Antepenúltimo Mohicano (J. Romero Ruiz) review* (P. Vedral) review* (Ceci) review* (T. Kadritzke) review*
Rolling Stone Mag. (P. Travers) review
Slant Magazine (E. Gonzalez) review
Sound & Sight (P. Kemp) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Dalton) review

Ex Machina [2015] (written and directed by Alex Garland) is a simultaneously visually minimalist yet often spectacular APPROPRIATELY über-hyped / slick sci-fi film about a contemporary Dr. Frankenstein [IMDb] / Dr. Moreau-[IMDb]-like "mad scientist" named Nathan Bateman (played with appropriate hard-drinking / megalomaniacal insanity by Oscar Isaac) a "living God-like" / Steve Jobs [IMDb]-like founder of a Google-like search engine called "Blue Book" who (a la Howard Hughes [IMDb] or is it more like Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) / Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now [1979]?) has holed himself-up in a Bond-villain-worthy Frank Lloyd Wright-styled "organic" yet "glass and steel" compound on a Switzerland-sized (!!) estate SOMEWHERE in Alaska where ... he's "worked on," apparently incessantly, (his) "next great thing" -- a fully artificial human being, that is, an artificially intelligent robot that looks, sounds, feels JUST LIKE a human being.

And thinking he's come close, Nathan invites a very capable but still initially "starry eyed" programmer named Caleb Smith (played again, quite spot-on by Domnhall Gleeson) selected by Nathan through a competition within his (Nathan's) company to come-out to give his newest creation an "Eve" [IMDb]-like Ava (played by Alicia Viklander) the "Turing test" (perhaps a la Blade Runner [1982]) to determine if she's REALLY an artificially intelligent being or still simply a "very well programmed robot."

Arriving by helicopter to Nathan's compound (again, in the middle of STUNNING Alaskan wilderness), Caleb is initially both awed and disoriented.  The compound, the vistas, and Nathan's TWO creations, the "free-er" Ava who Caleb's told he's come to test, and the designed to be visually stunning but utterly servile (she's even programmed TO BE MUTE) "diversion" / sex slave Kyoko (played by Soyona Minuzo) are all superficially AWE-SOME.  But, wow ... HOW CREEPY !

Nathan's become a "God" in this utterly controlled (by him) compound nestled in this (largely EMPTY) Switzerland-sized estate in the Alaskan wilds.

But then what a creepy "god" ... with his technology / intelligence / POWER to create JUST ABOUT ANYTHING, he seems to be FIXATED on CREATING "Women" ... but Women who he can then control -- Kyoko through her very programming and Ava because in "HIS compound" he controls the keys.  PERHAPS Ava is truly intelligent (and hence intellectually "free") BUT ... HE STILL MAKES SURE THAT SHE REMAINS LOCKED-UP,  as a prisoner, IN HIS COMPOUND.  (Caleb too, is given a personalized "key card" when he arrives, which Nathan teasingly tells him will "open some doors, and others not" and he also adds that it'd be "too complicated" to tell him which doors would be which ... it will simply be up to Caleb to progressively figure this out for himself).  What a jerk...

But then that is part of the film's intrigue.  How close is Nathan to being truly "a God," "Promethean" or otherwise?

And the film _can_ help us to appreciate the freedom that we do appear to have.  If we believe that WE were created by "a God" (and as Catholics / Christians we would believe that we would have been created by God [TM]) then it is noteworthy that, as I already mentioned in my review of Her [2013] another recent Sci-Fi film covering related territory, we do seem to have a remarkable degree of freedom that (presently) would seem almost inconceivable if we were fabricated by an intelligence like ours. 
In that review of Her [2013], I commented that I'd find a truly artificially intelligent "operating system" _inconceivable today_ because it'd be almost certainly "bundled" with all sorts of programs that would spy on us, drive us to prefer all sorts of specific products as opposed to others, etc.  That we DON'T seem to be programmed in that way is indeed remarkable, arguing for EITHER the proposition that we were truly _created by natural processes_ OR by a TRULY BENEVOLENT INTELLIGENCE (A TRULY BENEVOLENT GOD).

But back to the movie ... ;-) ... Ava proves intelligent enough to ask Caleb the question: "When Nathan is done with me, or creates something better than me, will he just turn me off?"  Caleb, of course, does not definitely know the answer, but suspects what it probably would be... and Ava, if she didn't know the answer before, certainly figures it out from Caleb's hesitation.  And thus the rest of the movie ensues ...

Anyway, I found this film to be a fascinating parable and one that can help viewers, believing or not, to compare / contrast between the "God-like" Nathan figure and the God that we'd hope to believe in and perhaps then our relationship to this God.

What kind of a God would be worthy of our respect / worship?  Obviously, as a Catholic priest, I do believe that such a God, worthy of our respect / worship exists (and is ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ ...).  But there would be a lot of potential conceptions of God that certainly are _not_ worthy of respect, much less worship.  And then, how, honestly, to proceed in the meantime?

So this is a fascinating, minimalist, but definitely thought-provoking film!

A final note to parents: since one of Nathan's "creations" was intended to be "pleasure object / sex slave," while the film does not gratuitously dwell on this, do understand that the R-rating is certainly appropriate.

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1 comment:

  1. Smart Filmmaking, for a Change

    Father, you hit the right buttons in your first graph-- Moreau, Joseph Conrad's Col. Kurtz, James Bond and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. I agree with you, there was also a bit of the late Steve Jobs in Oscar Isaac's Nathan Bateman. Yep, this film certainly borrowed from Blade Runner heavily without actually stealing the topic. Ex Machina wants us to wonder, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Although this film will eventually play just fine as a DVD on your wide screen TV, it is spectacle on the big screen. Indeed, it is a visually-stunning thinker. Every detail is in place and is perfect. How often do we get a chance to see a sci-fi thriller where you're actually asked to exercise real thought? This is a rare opportunity for movie goers, and I look forward to the next offering from first-time director Alex Garland.

    In my own professional life, I think about neurobiology nearly every day, but I came away from this film, this work of art, wondering about consciousness. What is it? How does it work? How do neurons in the central nervous system work to preserve not only memories, but also help us respond in both our own character and according to the character of the person we are having intellectual discourse with. How do we make judgments? Do neurons function, in some way, like the silicon chips on which processors and flash memory work? Brain tissue is clearly much more complex than digital information technology as we know it today, and consciousness remains a huge mystery to the scientist. An understanding of perception, insight and awareness will ultimately be revealed as a molecular phenomenon, but it won't happen in my lifetime. Is it tied to the soul? That's a question that science will never answer.

    The part that made the most impact on me is when artificially-intelligent Ava, played masterfully by Alicia Vikander, began testing Caleb, who as it turns out, has become the subject of this experiment. Her questions were superb. I don't have a favorite color either. How am I supposed to answer that question? The one query that made the greatest impact on me was, "What was your earliest memory?" Yes, Caleb's mind was being messed with on a major scale. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb with the innocence, naiveté and frank stupidity that most of us would bring to the table if we were thrown into this hellish experiment. The most important question this film asks us to answer is, if we can create consciousness, or a reasonable model of awareness, have we indeed created a being? This film has an opinion on that. I leave that judgment to you.