Friday, March 4, 2016

God called, he wants his power back…


You know that moment when you’re staring into the eyes of someone you love and trust and realize for the first time that they’re not who you want them to be?  Have you had one of those moments?  It’s unnerving.  It’s hard to stomach because it unravels quite rapidly in your mind and everything starts spinning and it really does happen like it does in the movies; with tiny flashbacks and rapid recalculations of countless conversations and ‘moments’.  If you’ve ever been in that kind of a situation, then you’ll understand where I’m going with this.

Ex Machina sees us for who we are, and it’s not pretty.



Themes such as ‘playing God’ and the transcendence of fantasy and reality have been played with, explored and presented in so many different ways, but there is something special about the way that Alex Garland structures his debut film that leaves me rather spellbound, even all these months later.  I keep going back to it, keep massaging the film’s themes and moments and aspects in my mind because it all feels so intricate and complex.  There is a very profound statement about the isolation of human emotion that floods into the fabric of this film, creating something that feels much richer and deeper than many give it credit for.

This is not your run of the mill sci-fi movie.

Ex Machina tells the story of three individuals trapped in a triangle of desires, impulses, reactions and motivations that unravels in the most unexpected and bizarrely rewarding of ways.  Nathan is the CEO of an internet company, but in his spare time he’s constructing and cavorting with A.I.s in his mountain retreat.  Caleb, an employee of Nathan’s, is selected to join him at his retreat in order to converse with and essentially test out his latest creation, Ava.  Ava is a stunning creature, luminous and endearing and entrancing.  When he opens her mouth, raises her eyes, peers into your soul…you feel it in your gut.  So does Caleb.  He’s immediately smitten, not even fully aware of his feelings and how to process them.  But soon things start to shift within the fabric of their little world.  Ava begins to confide in Caleb, filling his head with ideas of who Nathan really is and soon his affections for Ava overtake common sense in the most spectacular of ways.


The film’s core question appears to be, “Who is Ava?”  Is she someone we can trust, that Caleb can trust.  Are her concerns, observations and condemnations legitimate, but in all reality the real question is, “Does it matter?”  In the grander scheme of things, is the truth all that important here.  Would the truth even matter one iota to Caleb?  Are his actions really caused by anything Ava is saying and doing or was this an inevitable reality spurned by something inside Caleb himself?  There is an astute observation about mankind’s aversion to loneliness and their need to be needed here that exudes itself so brilliantly in Domhnall Gleeson’s portrayal of Caleb.  The juxtaposition between his efforts to assert himself as the ‘hero’ (who asked you?) and Nathan’s insistence on playing God (who asked you?) brilliantly anchor the film, allowing Ava’s complexities to shine forth.  For an entity that is inhuman, Ava becomes the films soul.  Her journey of self-discovery beautifully captures the film’s core messages.

Her moment, applying her own skin, says more than almost any other scene this year was able to say about who we are as human beings and what makes us ‘alive’.

Vikander is a revelation.  There isn’t another way to put it.  What she does with every subtle shift in movement is so articulated and so in character.  She is equal parts compelling and cold, which helps create an astonishingly full bodied portrait of a woman finding her way.  She’s had an incredible year, and this is yet another reason why it was deserved.  She’s supported by two very well constructed (and very different) performances from Gleeson and Isaac.  Isaac’s subtle menacing is very well placed, delving into the charisma of the ‘generic bad boy’ while shading him with not only ‘troubled traits’ but giving him an air of neediness of power, almost akin to that of Gleeson’s Caleb, just not as virginal.  In fact, the way that these two play two sides of the same coin helps anchor the film’s climax and Ava’s ascension brilliantly because it validates her final decision.


She knew what Caleb would become.


I can’t gush over this one enough.  From the performances to the stunning sets to the dazzling special effects to the profound screenplay, Garland’s debut is a ravishing exploration of humanity at its most humble and most haughty.

32 comments:

  1. Ugh, I love this post so much. I have our blogging community to thank because without them, I'd have never given Ex Machina a chance, and it's one of my favourite movies now. I bought 3 copies of it throughout 2015 to give as gifts to family members who all loved the movie too!
    - Allie

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    1. What an awesome gift! I hope they all appreciated the film!

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  2. For me, the only downside of the film is that there are a couple of moments where the CGI looks like CGI, at least on the big screen. That's a quibble as far as I'm concerned.

    What I liked most about this was how carefully it was written. Watching this, I had several moments where I was convinced I knew what was going to happen. The film not only didn't go there, it specifically went out of its way to show me that the possibility I thought of was considered and was wrong. It's smart writing and it's realized beautifully. Hell of a good movie and I love that it got some recognition this year.

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    1. I'll have to watch it again (gladly), but I never had that quibble with the CGI, which I thought was expertly done.

      And yes, the screenplay is very well crafted.

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  3. Fantastic review! I really liked this one as well, and Vikander was so amazing here, all three of them were really good.

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    1. Yes, the acting trio was top notch!

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  4. Such a great film. I am choosing to believe going forward that Vikander's Oscar is for this and NOT for her UNQUESTIONABLY leading role in The Danish Girl. I love how subtly the film tightens its vice grip until that last act, where it becomes almost impossible to breathe. Both Gleason and Isaac give tremendous performances, too.

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    1. If only the Academy had the balls to actually nominated (and reward) her for this...

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  5. I am right with you on this one. It is a phenomenal film with much to say about humanity and our unquenchable thirst for things both natural (companionship, power) and unnatural (technology). Still my fave of 2015, so far.

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    1. It's currently my #3 of the year, right behind Inside Out and Carol.

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  6. I didn't like this one nearly as much as you did but this is truly beautifully written review. Are there gonna be a lot of reviews published from now on? Is there some sort of schedule I can get psyched while reading?:D

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    1. Thanks, Sati! Hope you enjoy the reviews to follow :-D

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  7. Amazing review and so well put. This was one of my favorites of the year. I'm stoked a small film like this got honored with the visual effects Oscar.

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    1. I nearly squealed when it won Visual Effects at the Oscars!

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  8. Fabulous review. I like the movie but maybe not as much as most seem to. Still, so much of what you write is spot-on. Good job man!

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  9. "There is a very profound statement about the isolation of human emotion that floods into the fabric of this film, creating something that feels much richer and deeper than many give it credit for.

    This is not your run of the mill sci-fi movie."

    Yes!! Exactly this. Matt Zoller Seitz' review for rogerebert.com said something similar to the tune of "I like a movie about ideas." That is what makes this movie so great. It lets itself simply be about the ideas it presents both visually and in its brilliant dialogue pieces between Caleb and Nathan and Caleb and Ava. I LOVED this film. It is definitely one that has yet to leave me, and I saw it way back in early June.

    Great review, man!

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    1. Awesome way to put this, Kevin. A film about ideas is right.

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  10. This one is a gem. Its visual effects Oscar win was a pleasant surprise and I like to think that Alicia Vikander's Oscar for The Danish Girl is also for Ex Machina.

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    1. I have a feeling Vikander's Oscar was for her year as a whole, which was pretty stellar.

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  11. I do think this is a great film as I really enjoyed the concept of it as well as Alicia Vikander's performance though I still have no interest in seeing Eddie Redmayne in Drag to Claim that He's Acting.

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    1. I'll probably see The Danish Girl...but I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

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  12. Wow! What a brilliant post! Your prodigious writing talent and sharp intelligence really shine here. I loved this movie as much as you did. And yes, Vikander is wonderful. I'm a married woman, practically a zero on the Kinsey Scale, and I had such a crush on her after seeing this film. ;-)

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    1. You're too kind, Stephanie

      <3

      Vikander is gold here, for sure.

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  13. I personally think Vikander is Cotillard-level talented and Ex Machina only hints at what she's capable of on screen. She's utterly transcendent in her Swedish film lead debut Pure (it's available to rent subtitled on Amazon). It's a role that reminded me a bit of Carey Mulligan in Shame, with that kind of desperation for love and attention that's ultimately destructive.

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    1. I haven't seen enough of her to compare her to the greatest actress of our generation, but I'm definitely intrigued by her talent. She was stellar here and in Testament of Youth, and comparing her debut to Mulligan's performance in Shame is lofty praise, so I'm all in for that one.

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  14. What a GREAT headline here Drew! "This is not your run of the mill sci-fi movie." You got that right! I was blown away how good this film was, how profound the story was and how brilliantly executed. Glad it won Best SFX, it should've won more IMO.

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    1. Thanks, Ruth! I continue to think about this one more and more as time passes, and it only gets stronger for me as a collective piece.

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  15. You wrote a terrific review for a film that centers so much on your title. I thought this was an amazing film showing the madness, the hint of evil but with naivety thrown in. The Asian girl was also great. You should send this in to a newspaper for publishing

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    1. Yes, that hint of evil was so well integrated into the film.

      And thank you for your high praise. I appreciate the kind words, sincerely.

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  16. It really is a small triumph all around. When the time came to narrow my favorite 2015 films to five, I just had to put this in.

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