What does it mean to be human? What, exactly, is it that defines us? Is it our capacity to use tools (once a commonly accepted definition, now outdated), our complex problem-solving ability, our creativity, our emotions? Or is it something less admirable—our capacity for deception, betrayal, self-preservation above all?
|Beware the android without a moral compass.|
These are the questions addressed in writer/director Alex Garland’s (DREDD, 28 DAYS LATER) new film EX MACHINA, in theaters now. And though the questions may be fascinating, the exploration at times diverting, the answers Garland provides us are ultimately predictable and disappointing.
The film revolves around a “Turing test,” an examination of a highly sophisticated android (Alicia Vikander) to see if her artificial intelligence has passed the point of self-awareness. But, of course, the test, and all that surrounds it, is not what it seems--starting with the android’s crazy/charismatic creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac in an incandescent performance building on his riveting role in the recent A MOST VIOLENT YEAR), and including the fact that this android is purposely built to svelte female proportions.
The poor schlub from Nathan’s pioneering software company brought in to test the android is Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson, ABOUT TIME), a timid beta to Nathan’s towering alpha in every way. From this point on in the story, nothing is a surprise—not Caleb’s falling for the beautiful machine, her apparently falling for him, the evidence of Nathan’s brutish cruelty toward his earlier iterations in the android line, the manipulation occurring on all sides. That includes the manipulation of the audience by the writer/director, wanting us to root for the underdog Caleb and his threatened android sweetheart.
But about two-thirds of the way into the film, you begin to wonder whether the android might be smarter than Caleb, at least, and maybe Nathan, too. No amount of trickery can keep the smart human in the theater seat (at least one who has seen a few SF films and read a few SF books) from predicting the obvious result. I won’t spoil it for you if you plan to see the film. Just be warned that if you are an old-school SF fan, you’ve seen it all before.
This film has garnered a lot of attention from the critics. I suspect it’s because of some neat CGI effects and the fact that there’s a fair amount of female nudity in the film. Guys tend to think that makes a film “edgy.” For me the redeeming factor was Oscar Isaac, acting almost in isolation to bring energy to a timeworn plot. Gleeson mostly looked confused and sad. Vikander did her job competently, which was to look innocent and lovely, even while doing some pretty nasty things. (That’s the thing about AI—it always seems to come without a moral compass.)
Just in case you’re wondering, this is NOT science fiction romance. It’s straight SF. The romantic elements play a role in the plot, but, for reasons I can’t explain without spoilerage, they do not constitute true romance. Looks like we’ll have to wait a while for another SFR film of worth on the big screen.