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Review: 'Ex Machina' Is A New Sci-Fi Classic

Review: 'Ex Machina' Is A New Sci-Fi Classic

Scified2015-04-08 22:57:53https://www.scified.com
Scified
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Thumbnail: Wickedly smart and often wickedly funny, this delightfully entertaining science fiction drama is one of the best films of the year.

Box Office:

Ex Machina is an original science-fiction drama written and directed by Alex Garland, writer of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Sunshine. It stars Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, the first two of whom both star in Walt Disney's DIS +0.88% Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. Mr. Isaac will star in next summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse as the title baddie. Ex Machina has been in theatrical release here and there around the world since late January, and it has already earned $6.2 million overseas prior to this Friday’s limited American release, with $3.8m of that coming from the UK (which makes sense since it’s technically a British film). A24 is handling domestic distribution, and they claim that the film will be somewhat wide by April 24th. I’m at least a little hopeful that the generally positive reviews and strong buzz can allow for something approaching a breakout in that proverbial dead space between Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Regardless, I’m not going to pretend that this film is destined for box office glory. The picture is a gloried stage play, with basically four roles of any note, and it puts a premium on ideas and thoughtful conversation over special effects and spectacle. Nonetheless, the picture cost $20 million to produce and I can’t imagine it not at least being something of a cult classic over the next few years and slowly making money through word-of-mouth rentals or VOD downloads and the like. Truth be told, there probably won’t be much of a box office story for this one. I’m writing about it because the initial reviews interested me and the film lived up to the hype. It’s one of the best films of the year thus-far and it’s absolutely worth your time as it slowly expands to a theater near you over the next month.

 

The Review:

It is a strange thing, how we humans constantly rush to ascribe human motivations or human empathy toward things that are not entirely human or explicitly real. We watch nature documentaries and assume that the animal behavior is explicitly motivated by the same thoughts and motivations as somewhat generic humans. We watch clearly fictional entertainments and yet feel real emotions at the fictional plot turns or choices concerning clearly fictional characters. And even in our lives, we can be tricked into having human feelings about things that are clearly not alive, such as a favorite stuffed animal or an old shirt that you just can’t bear to throw away. The deliciously enjoyable Ex Machina doesn’t just play around with the notion of artificial intelligence to tell another tale about a would-be robot who “learns” to be human. The Alex Garland film goes further down the rabbit hole to examine, with overwhelming success, how humans can assign not just emotion but explicit morality based on predisposed presumptions of human behavior and would-be human wants.

The plot of Ex Machina is deceptively simple. A young programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) working for a tech company is recruited to spend a weekend with the big boss (Oscar Isaac) and participate in a “Turing Test.” The catch is that the would-be artificial construct, in the form of a young woman (Alicia Vikander) is clearly presented as a non-human artificial creation. What follows is a series of conversations between man and man, as well as man and “robot woman,” with young Caleb realizing that he may be as much of a test subject as the A.I. creation. The notion of an artificial or “unnaturally created” life form in the form of an alluring female causing trouble for “her” creators is not a new one, and at the very least you should all go out and rent Splice. But like the best sci-fi dramas, the emphasis is on the (theoretical) science rather than the narrative fiction, and the picture becomes an endlessly exciting construct where the most suspenseful moments come from incredibly intelligent conversation between highly intelligent people about theoretical science made practical.

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Written by Steve johnsonPublished on 2015-04-08 22:57:53
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