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A brilliant movie that accentuates what it means to be human, and debates the question: can machines ever become truly sentient?

The Brits certainly do make some great movies. Ex Machina is the epitome of elegant film making, and a testament to the talent of its writer, and debuting director, Alex Garland (screenwriter of Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later). Akin to arguably the greatest science-fiction movie of all time, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ex Machina adopts such subtly in gesture, abnegating the need of narration, hence allowing the visual splendour, and perfect soundtrack to convey the story. I do love sci-fi movies, and I am so gratified when I watch one that keeps me fully engaged till the credits roll.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson – Unbroken, About Time, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), is the winner of an in-house competition at Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine. His prize is a week-long residence with the company’s eccentric CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac – A Most Violent Year, The Two Faces of January, Inside Llewyn Davis), at his secluded research facility in the mountains. Caleb’s task during his stay, is to administer the Turing test to Ava (Alicia Vikander – Son of a Gun, The Fifth Estate, Anna Karenina), an android created by Nathan, that possesses artificial intelligence (A.I.). In order for Ava to pass this test, she would need to convince Caleb that she is human, and not the humanoid robot that Nathan had identified her to be. However, as Caleb is already aware that Ava is not human, Nathan clarifies that his task is to judge whether Ava has consciousness to which Caleb can relate.

As the week progresses, Caleb begins to feel an emotional connection with Ava. Her human-like behaviour, and her ability to express what Caleb believes are real emotions, convinces him that Ava’s confinement to her secure apartment is a form of abuse at the hand of Nathan. This is emphasized in Caleb’s mind by the fact that he and Ava must only converse through a transparent wall, hence repudiating them of any form of physical contact. As the protagonist of the story, Caleb is sympathetic to her plight and decides to help her escape from her assumed prison.

It’s rare to see a sci-fi thriller featuring A.I. that is so intensely thought provoking, while conjointly oozing a sense of serenity. Most movies of this genre are generally a plethora of action-packed pandemonium, where the robots are portrayed as killing machines turning on the humans. Instead, we are presented with Ava, a profound machine with ethereal beauty that is gracefully seductive, regardless of her constitution.

Ava soon becomes the subject of Caleb’s conscious, and unconscious fantasies due to the authenticity of her conviction. He reaches a point where he begins to question his own existence, and wonders if he himself is an android. I found myself constantly questioning who the antagonist of the story is, which at times, kept me on the edge of my seat.

I applaud Garland’s choice in using the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway as the filming location of Nathan’s research facility. His decision to use the secluded mountain setting illustrates his brilliance and artistic expression that highlights the contrast between nature and technology. The unassuming exterior gives way to the luxurious interior that brings the outside, inside, and encapsulates elements of the landscape in such a beautiful way. The stark contrast between the architecture and its serene surrounds, perfectly complements the sterile laboratory and rooms in the bowels of the building. The fact that such a setting spawns the evolution of the most advanced machinery ever created by man, Ava, is not without its sense of irony.

Garland was adamant to have total creative freedom while making Ex Machina, and so eradicated any notion of conventional action sequences. This also meant there were no special effects, greenscreen, or tracking markers used during filming. All effects were added later in post-production. Consequently, Garland made the film on the smallest budget possible, a cool $15 million, and since its release in early 2015, has earned over $36 million worldwide (up to June 25, 2015).

Ex Machina will definitely have its place in my DVD collection, on the ‘my favourite movies’ shelf. I’ll slot it in next to other cult classics such as; Bladerunner, A Clockwork Orange, and Pitch Black.

If you like Ex Machina, you might also like: Bladerunner (1982), Bicentennial Man (1999), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), I, Robot (2004), The Machine (2013), Transcendence (2014), Automata (2014), Chappie (2015), and of course, The Terminator franchise.

The Movie Lad rates this: FIVE out of a possible five seductive androids.

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