‘Ex Machina’ will keep you guessing and thinking

By Bob Bloom

What are the components that comprise intelligence?
Is it simply memorization and the regurgitation of facts and figures?
Or is it more complex and sophisticated?
What separates mankind from a machine that can think?
These are some of the questions posed in director Alex Garland’s debut behind the camera, the brilliant “Ex Machina.”
ex machina 2Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer at an Internet search giant owned by reclusive and eccentric Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaacs).
Smith wins a coveted companywide contest to spend a week with Bateman at his private mountain estate. Once there, Smith learns that he has been selected to be the human component in a Turing test in which he must evaluate the capabilities of Ava (newcomer Alicia Vikander), Bateman’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence.
Despite his employer’s idiosyncratic behavior, Smith is flattered and excited to take part.
But as the week progresses, and he spends more and more time talking with Ava, Smith begins to question and wonder the purpose of Bateman’s tests and his role in them.
“Ex Machina” is an excellent, sterile movie that, despite a lot of talk and a dearth of action, keeps you on your mental toes as you try to navigate its many twists and turns.
Who is really being tested? What is Bateman’s ultimate goal? And how complicated — and perhaps — complicated is Ava?
That “Ex Machina” answers all those questions is what makes it one of the most satisfying films of the year.
Like a game of Ping-Pong, you keep bouncing back and forth, trying to discern who is the puppet and who is the puppet master.
“Ex Machina” is a cerebral movie about ideas that is neither dull nor does it drag. You continually want to learn more, not only about Ava, but Smith and Bateman, as well.
What holds the audience is a dark undercurrent of not so much dread as uncertainty. Your senses tell you that something is off-kilter, yet you can’t place your finger on what it is.
The trio of major performers grab you. Isaacs, especially, gives a performance as a brilliant man more at home with machines than people.
Gleeson displays Smith’s intelligence, as well as his young naiveté and ambition.
Vikander adds vulnerable and seductive components to a creation that seems helpless, yet is aware enough to know the art of manipulation.
“Ex Machina” is a smart science-fiction gem that will not only keep you guessing, but, when the lights come up, have you thinking about the true meaning of intelligence — whether it be artificial or otherwise.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

4 stars out of 4
(R), graphic violence, nudity, sexual references, language

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