Ex Machina (2015): Frankenstein Meets Bluebeard

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina
Written and directed by Alex Garland, the 2015 science fiction film Ex Machina feels a little like “Frankenstein Meets Bluebeard.” This is Garland’s first time in the “big chair” but his name may seem familiar to fans of horror and science fiction. Alex wrote the brilliant 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go which are just three cinematic treats from this man’s pen. This tale of A.I., the Turing Test, and its surprising conclusion is a sublime and clever offering.

Starring Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Drive), Domhnall Gleeson (Black Mirror, Unbroken), Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Seventh Son) and Sonoya Minuzo (Beauty and the Beast, Venus in Eros) Ex Machina, pronounced “makina” follows Caleb Smith (Gleeson) as the winner of a contest to spend a specified time with tycoon super scientist Nathan (Isaac) where he will participate in a Turing test of Ava (Vikander) his latest A.I..

On top of Garland’s film proving that there are different levels, and kinds, of Geeks, it appears that the director wanted to pay homage to several different films, books and themes. All this, while almost subliminally planting the idea that search engines are the windows to our souls. Nathan’s billions are all made by his search engine, Bluebook which he realized provided information to the owner while giving results of searches to the users.

The curious thing about this modern prometheus, aka Frankenstein, is that his creation of life, actively hates and loathes him. Perhaps the message here is that only one Deity should be creating life. While alluding to the Mary Shelly story, the film also gives a nod to The Seven Wives of Bluebeard. Not just in that Caleb’s keycard will only open so many doors, which follows Bluebeard’s last wife and her set of keys but that at least one, if not more, are off limits.

Added to this Bluebeard theme are the “dead” A.I. bodies kept in Nathan’s room in their own personal closets/coffins. While there are not seven, there are four, five counting the “live wife” Ava, and six if one counts the mute Kyoko, whom Nathan tells Caleb speaks no English and is human.

Techno geek Nathan as creator leaves much to be desired. He treats his children with little empathy and can conceivably be seen as cruel. Rather interestingly, it seems that each A.I. longs to be free and while Nathan kills each creation, wiping their memories clean, enough residual information remains to influence the new machines to resent their creator.

The interactions between, first, Caleb and Nathan – awkward and, from Caleb’s end dully pragmatic, and then Caleb and Ava are mesmerizing. At the beginning the young contest winner is overawed and uncertain of how to talk to his benefactor. He goes through the same agonies of poor communication when he first converses with Ava. Treating her as a subject to be studied rather than a person. Something that she not only picks up on, but apparently resents as well when she turns his own questions back on Caleb.

As the story progresses, Isaac changes from benevolent and eccentric creator to something a little more menacing.

Garland expertly blends in several nods and winks to the audience. For example, when Kyoko attacks Nathan later in the film, the music on the soundtrack which accompany the incident is from the 2002 Japanese horror film by Sion Sono Suicide Club, aka Suicide Circle. The notes played are from the character Rolly’s song titled, aptly enough, Suicide Circle. Kyoko is clearly a Japanese styled A.I. making this a wonderful and deft touch by the first time director.

Oscar Isaac turns in a brilliant performance as the driven, awkward and lonely creator. Isaac is one of those actors who can portray menace and touching vulnerability all in, seemingly, one breath. In the scene where he is drunk and believes he has lost his keycard, the actor becomes a small frustrated and lost boy. This man has been dangerous (A Most Violent Year)and toughly tragic (Drive) and in this film he really is the guy that most people would love to spend time with.

Domhnall Gleeson is brilliant as the contest winner who undergoes several realizations through the course of the film. Finally learning that he has been “played” from day one.

Alicia Vikander may well go down in history as being the only actress able to exude so much attractive sensuality with only a portion of her face showing. Regardless of her beauty, the performer conveys volumes with her eyes and facial expressions. A slight curve of the lip, eyes that light up with either interest, anger or delight and the ability to make us not only care about this artificial intelligence but to fall in love with her just as Caleb does.

This film has a mix of humor, pathos and gives us a fascinating look at man as creator. It also asks the question, that Ava asks as well. How would it feel knowing that your creation hates you? Ex Machina is thought provoking and damned entertaining. There are moments that will make you chuckle and others will provoke tension and a certain amount of uneasiness.

Alex Garland has given us a real 5 out of 5 star film. Do not wait to watch this one, head over to any of the streaming services online and watch this first time masterpiece.

Just brilliant.

28 Months Later “In the Works”

Poster for 28 Days Later For fans of the original Danny Boyle directed and Alex Garland written 28 Days Later, this could be very good news. Certainly Facebook is full of fans singing their little rage filled hearts out at the recent news that Garland released stating that the script for 28 Months Later has been finished and is in the works but he will have nothing further to do with it.

Alex talks backstory a bit, not on the new 28 Days story but about the path taken to get a sequel worthy of the original. In GamesRadar+ the screenwriter talks about Boyle’s talking about a Garland written sequel while he focussed upon Trainspotting 2 a couple of years ago.

In reference to the Gamesradar+ story, it should be pointed out that they call the film a “zombie” film, which, technically it is not, the films are post-apocryphal and has nothing to do with hordes of the undead.

At that time Alex said he would write it but did not want any active participation in the project. Producer Andrew MacDonald said that he would take care of it. Regardless of whether the writer wants to work on the project, hopefully this sequel should have the same tones of originality that the first one had in spades. The other thing that 28 Days Later had was that wonderfully haunting music, used in a number of other movies, most notably Kick-Ass where the soundtrack was updated for the “Big Daddy Kills” sequence.

While many still refer to the first two as “zombie” films; the scary attacking people in the verse are not, undead flesh eaters. In 28 Days Later the whole outbreak starts because a few animal rights activists go to release monkies who have been infected with Rage. This virus actually turns the primates into screaming murderous, and enraged, creatures who only want to attack. The virus is transferred to people and poor Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find the world in London has changed for the worse.

The first film was brilliant, the cross plot of the Christopher Eccleston’s Army Major, “I promised them women,” and the Brendan Gleeson’s doomed fatherly cab driver, “Get away,” were just icing on the cinematic cake. Naomi Harris and Megan Burns as the women rounded out the casting for this haunting and damned scary film. Boyle proved once again to be the master of celluloid.

Poster for 28 Weeks Later Then came the “star studded” 28 Weeks Later. Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Robert Carlyle and Imogen Poots, in what was her second feature film role, were stuck in an inferior version of Boyle’s and Garland’s Rage infested England. The first clue that this sequel would be lacking was the noticeable absence of both Boyle and Garland on the project. I liked the film because Carlyle was in it and he brought his own special magic to the role of the man who deserts his wife to the infected and then lies to his kids about it.

Jeremy Renner also made me a fan for life as the sniper with a heart and Idris Elba was not used enough. The story was a pallid follow up to the first film and it was a bit disappointing to not see anything of Murphy and Harris, or for that matter Burns, and their characters.

Apart from Garland’s admission that the script is standing by waiting to be greenlit, there is no further information about the project. Considering that the writer has also stated that no one, not even FOX were interested in doing another sequel after 28 Weeks Later does not bode too well for 28 Months Later.

If the film does get the go ahead, it is to be devoutly hoped that the studios do not forget the original premise and make the Rage infected attackers zombies. Let’s keep our film-lore straight here, this is not an English version of The Walking Dead. Hopefully more news will be released on the likelihood of this anticipated film being made, sooner rather than later.