Ex Machina…quality humanitarian storytelling

ex_machina_ver4Deus ex machina (“God from a machine”) usually refers to careless story writing utilizing a plot twist coming out of nowhere. Rather than providing back story or rationale something extraordinary happens that changes the entire narrative, typically pulling a happier ending out of the hat. We are surprised by such seemingly divine intervention, but there is no way we couldn’t be. There is a sense of betrayal that comes to the viewer with such heavy handed outside influence.

Life can indeed be like that, but carefully crafted narratives have more to say than “fluke happens.” John Updike, possibly the greatest writer of our lifetimes, once decried “plot” itself because it tended to rely on such artifice. In his astoundingly carefully examined lives he wanted to explore instead character and more subtle choices forming us day to day. Good point John, but it made for some difficult reading.

Entering the summer season of sometimes mindless action and poorly developed story the expertly assembled yet surprisingly human “Ex Machina” offers a contrast: a slowly suspenseful tale of unfolding jealousy, insecurity, love and the subtle human tricks we develop to negotiate relationships. This psychological film deserves its good reviews.

The title hints at what we already know going in: a machine may or may not be so any longer.  Its 3 great leads carry immense weight in a tiny cast within a claustrophobic high tech setting. Sublime special effects and an uncanny performance by Alicia Vikander make robot Ava impossible to take your eyes off. Even better is the complex and subtle relationship between the two men; their interactions carry “Ex Machina into territory beyond mere entertainment. This is a thoughtful, exciting and worthwhile consideration of what it means to be human.

Some conversations felt a bit too close to Spock and Kirk for me; conversing for the past generation about data and emotion. This isn’t terribly new territory. There is a touch of new intrigue around language and how it works but otherwise little science to flesh out this movie. You’ve already learned about all you are going to from glancing at the poster. Some prefer this, but I wanted a little more than “trust your heart” as a key plot strategy.

But in the final act where so many others stumble; where Hollywood often cheaply pulls a godly intervention out of the machine, this movie doesn’t. “Ex Machina” surprises, satisfies and haunts, moving with as much creepy grace as Ava. We left the theater nodding and smiling in admiration, also shaking our heads at the deftly told cautionary tale, muttering as both exhalation and observation; “man…”