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Film Review: Ex Machina

"Ex Machina is creepy, ominous and engrossing ... but above all else Oscar worthy". 

Ex Machina is the story of a gifted computer programmer who works for a powerful search engine corporation. He one day wins a contest sponsored by the company’s CEO. Upon news that he won the contest, the naive programmer is elated. The prize is a week spent working on a special project with this world-renowned founder/CEO, an eccentric genius recluse who lives in a remote mountain compound with an impenetrable security system, reachable only by helicopter.

Here the story of “Ex Machina” begins, a fascinating premise in itself. However this is only the tip of the iceberg, only a glimpse of the developments — the moral, spiritual and intellectual dilemmas that proliferate and linger as the story unfolds.

The opening camera shot puts the viewer  in a seemingly vast, peaceful wooded mountain world. It appears that in this lushly green environment, cut off from civilization, a restful and creative week is about to take place. What unfolds within the small circle of protagonists is in disturbing contrast to the setting.

This is the directing debut of English novelist/screenwriter/video-game writer/film producer Alex Garland. In spite of being a novice director, Garland knows his way around the production system. He understood that unless he kept his budget small, he would lose creative control of the vision he had for this work. Garland himself wrote the screenplay — beautifully crafted with enough simplicity to allow the story’s complex ideas to take on a vital dimension. And to be clear it’s no coincidence that Garland is fascinated by human psychology. His parents are a psychoanalyst and a political cartoonist.
Oscar Isaac is so good as the CEO that he is unrecognizable from the role he created in “Inside Llewyn Davis”. His image here is quite the opposite from the obligatory nerdy genius technology billionaire, thanks to Garland’s writing and Isaac’s acting. It’s also an interesting side note that this character, believing he’s in total control, physically resembles writer-director Garland.

Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan) and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander also star in the film. Both superbly, seemingly effortlessly create fascinating personalities. Vikander’s many years of training as a professional ballerina serve her well in this role. Veteran casting director Francine Maisler did a brilliant job on this film.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy and production designer Mark Digby capture the deceptively soft mood in the interiors and backgrounds, letting the faces provide the drama and emotional fire. Editor Mark Day gives the continuity a flawless movement so that the action never lags, in spite of contained sets. Norway provided the landscapes — a perfect setting.

“Ex Machina” plays with the classic idea of hubris and brings it to light in the modern world of technology. If you see this film, you may take with you this thought, presented by Stephen Hawking earlier this year: “Computers will overtake humans with AI (artificial intelligence) … within the next 100 years … we need to make sure the computers have goals aligned with ours.” I predict this movie will be studied in film history classes.I hope this film makes the Oscar list for 2016.

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