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Ex Machina

Is humanity suited to play god?

Who has more humanity? Inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac), his protege Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) or the Artificial Intelligence creation Ava (Alicia Vikander). <<© Universal Pictures >>

Code writer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson: Unbroken) gets the break of a lifetime when he wins a contest to meet his boss, tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac: A Most Violent Year). The trip of a lifetime begins oddly: Caleb is loaded onto a helicopter, flown to the middle of nowhere, dropped off in a field and told to follow the river.
    He arrives at Nathan’s secluded cabin, where he’s given a keycard and a nondisclosure agreement. If Caleb signs, Nathan promises to reveal the real reason behind the trip; if he refuses, Nathan will hand him a beer and wish him the best.
    Eager to impress his boss and find out what innovations await, Caleb signs. Nathan in turn spills the beans: The spacious woodland home isn’t a residence; it’s a research facility. Nathan has invented the first artificially intelligent machine, and he wants Caleb to administer a Turing Test to determine whether his creation has consciousness.
    Upon meeting the machine, Ava (Alicia Vikander: Seventh Son), Caleb is astounded by the technology. He is also charmed. As Caleb and Ava bond, Nathan’s erratic drunken behavior and the facility’s frequent power outages grow worrisome. During one blackout, Ava implores Caleb not to trust Nathan.
    Creepy, tense and deeply thoughtful, Ex Machina is sci-fi for thinking moviegoers. Writer/director Alex Garland (Dredd) creates an uneasy world heavy with film reference and metaphor. So much is owed to 2001: A Space Odyssey that it wouldn’t be out of place to hear HAL’s voice boom through the sparse white and gray rooms. Garland also uses his directorial debut to show off a talent for camera work. Each frame is carefully constructed to build tension. Glass walls reveal vast yet claustrophobic space. Objects are a little off center in the frame, throwing the viewer off kilter.
    Garland’s greatest triumph, however, is his script. It works equally as rumination on the nature of invention, debate on what makes us human or metaphor for misogyny in the modern world. Viewers can dig deep to follow these themes or simply enjoy the interplay among three characters trapped in a small space.
    As Caleb, Gleeson is full of admiration and moral certainty. Once he begins to question, Gleeson lets his character unravel spectacularly. In the showier role of Nathan, Isaac is superb. He slinks into rooms, leers and drinks, his huge bushy beard making him a Howard Hughes-like figure.
    However, Vikander is the star of the film. As Ava she manages to imbue her character with childlike wonder, intelligence and burgeoning sexuality. Vikander’s nuanced performance makes Ava’s sexuality part of her embrace of humanity and learning about interaction. She is both heartbreaking and frightening as a machine who may be more human that the men evaluating her.

Great Sci-Fi • R • 108 mins.