EX MACHINA – Cogito Ergo Sum


“I think, therefore, I am”…

That’d be Rene Descartes philosophical discourse on existence. To prove you exist, look no further than your own thoughts. Self-awareness is a uniquely human discovery.

At least that’s what Descartes thought when he said “Cogito ergo sum” back in the 1600s. Of course this philosopher also believed in a lot of crazy sh*t like vivisection (live animal dissections) and solipsism (think MATRIX, you are the only one that exists).

So he never entertained the idea of an animal as a sentient thinking being, let alone imagined a machine would one day gain awareness.

EX MACHINA posits the question: What if an artificial intelligence became self-aware? And makes an intense slow-brew thriller out of the answer. 

ALEX GARLAND’s masterful approach on this philosophical subject matter is not as dry as it sounds.

Garland (writer of 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE) inserts intellectual ideas into a contained thriller brimming with tension. There is an uneasy tension tightening its coils beneath the surface of each scene.

The pacing ensures we are never bored, as each scene brings us closer to the shocking and unflinching truth.

* this review is intended for a MATURE audience *

“Deus Ex Machina” is a Greek term used in the Dramatic Arts to refer to a hokey twist ending tied up neatly with a last minute explanation (often ridiculous). Um, quoted from me. It’s been a while, so forgive me. If I remember right, this term kind of translates to the contemporary, “Jump the Shark”.

Fear not, EX MACHINA, never jumps the shark. The Greek term is taken more literally: the God in the Machine – or the Ghost in the Shell for anime fans.

EX MACHINA fully explores the effects of creating a computerized soul, complex new morality rules, and ethical obligations.

OSCAR ISAAC (from INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, DRIVE. EPISODE VII) portrays the mad Doctor Frankenstein drunk on power. He has created the first AI able to pass as human.

He gives one lucky employee DOMHNALL GLEESON (from FRANK, and the new STAR WARS) the Golden Ticket to his Willy Wonka Robot Factory.

Gleeson is anxious and apprehensive. Why was he flown in a helicopter to the middle of nowhere to some reclusive millionaire genius’ luxury compound? This young programmer soon discovers he is brought here for a very special reason.

Gleeson is tasked to conduct the Turing Test (think ol’ Benny Cumberbatch in IMITATION GAME, as inventor of computing) on a newly created AI being.

BLADE RUNNER fans may have a few ideas where EX MACHINA may twist to. I was thinking it most of the way. You have to wonder is Gleeson being tested by Isaac? Or is the entire situation some sort of test?

Once Gleeson is introduced to the AI creation we are forced into his shoes. How would you relate to an AI cybernetic being who looks and acts human?

ALICIA VIKANDER portrays AVA, the artificial intelligence, with a mesmerizing and magnetic performance.

Vikander must teeter along the edge of emotion and emotionless. She must convey the inner machinations of the human mind transposed through the computational power and tasking of a robotic brain. And she does this seemingly impossible task to great effect.

Vikander brilliantly controls the screen luring us to constantly participate in each and every conversation. The audience experiences wonder mixed with trepidation and true fear. We both feel for Ava, and fear her.

What an amazing balancing act successfully achieved by young rising talent, Alicia Vikander.

Keep your eyes peeled. Vikander will be appearing everywhere soon, in a multitude of upcoming roles in high profile films.

Her character, Ava, develops a beautiful, gentle, innocent relationship with Gleeson’s shy and awkward programmer. We wonder if she is simply following computer coded programming, or if she is actually feeling, and furthermore is she genuinely falling in love. This complex blooming sexuality is ever intriguing.

We never know what is the test and how far this test applies? Is Isaac simply trying to create a sexual companion AI? Or is there a deeper mystery at work?

Vikander is so self-aware that she wants to be the ideal mate. She wants to be human. She wants to be accepted and loved. By the end, she will try on different appearances from hair to make-up and nice dresses.

The most intriguing moment was when she examined her body in the mirror. It begs the question – what is she thinking? How introspective and philosophical is the artificial intelligence?

Garland consistently places mirrors and reflections to compel us further, painting pictures of Ava’s inner world.

Isaac also navigates the depths with his complex Creator character. He seems cool and casual, but there are hints of erratic behaviour sprinkled about early on. Isaac’s charisma sets aside any doubts. This is the cool Steve Jobs… but, as we know, there’s another side to that equation.

The thriller elements slowly build, sneaking into the frame early on, until we are fully immersed in an atmospheric cautionary tale with a truly haunting finale.

Despite the science fiction subject matter, EX MACHINA is steeped in realism. The film is a beautiful sight, subtly staged. The performance are treated seriously, unlike the typical genre fare.

EX MACHINA is a grown up contemplative thriller about the perils of technology, the wonders of awareness, and the seduction of power.


What do you think?

Did you enjoy the performances? Where they above par for science fiction? 

What do you think of Alicia Vikander? Is she the next rising star in Hollywood?

Leave a comment below.

TWEET TWEET @slipthroughnerd

7 thoughts on “EX MACHINA – Cogito Ergo Sum

  1. After watching this movie last night and loving it, I knew I had to read this review. I was gripped by this movie from start to finish. It had so many interesting ideas to it. And Alicia Vikander was wonderful, keeping Ava mysterious yet sensual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking it out. I was flooded with ideas too. I love how this flick urges us to participate. It’s so much more intense when you’re wondering what everyone is thinking right. And Ava… yeah I totally got turned on by a robot. Is that… okay? Hehehe. You’re right, part of it is how she draws you in with mystery.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe that the audience is almost like Caleb in the beginning. We too become entranced by Ava, without realising that something sinister may be beneath the surface.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a really great point. I think that’s spot on. Caleb is the audience, scratching our head with a little bit (or a lot) of WTF. It begs the question, if he was a ladies man would these interviews actually “work”?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! Ex Machina is up there with my favorites of the year, it was so brilliant. When it comes to the performances, I think they are up there with some of the genre’s greats. And not just Machina’s contemporary sisters. Sitting atop all of them is Vikander in my book. I like how you zeroed in on what kind of a head space she needed to fill to convey her not-quite-human character. It must have been awfully daunting trying to read into that role and make it look like she was thinking constantly and not just appearing bored or disinterested. Such a tricky line to walk. She could be my favorite performance of the year actually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Thanks for the kind words, Tom. I’m glad you dug into Vikander’s thinking process and “artificial” emotion too. Sometimes I read too much into a performance, but this one was so inviting 😉 I think Machina will be really well regarded in the next few years. I can’t wait to see Garland’s next picture. And you’re right, Vikander is a blinding revelation.

      Liked by 1 person

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