ex machina (2015)
In a world of overdone, overblown cinema, sprawling television and film series that span entire "universes", it can look a valiant effort to tell a simple story with some complex themes and tell it well. Here we have Ex Machina, which does just that. Nothing so summarizes silicon valley's look at the world, the film, if nothing else, has its' finger firmly on the pulse. The spindly computer genius has given way to the machismo master-of-the-universe computer genius. Indeed, when capitalism and money ruled the world (it still does, but in the hearts and minds of the people, technology has been its replacement, we'll get to that later), these were the archetypes of Wall Street. "The world you live in exists because of what we do" they seem to say, which would be fine if the follow-up sentence wasn't always "And so BOW BEFORE ME!". Heavy lies the crown, oh creator and destroyer of worlds, and if there's one thing that Ex Machina "gets" better than all of its other genre brethren is that the future is coming, like it or not. The individuals who move mountains may aggrandize themselves, but the mountain was moving anyhow. It may have moved at a (no pun) glacial pace, but it was moving, the difference your impatient human lifespan of 100 or so years would never have been able to witness it move. So, you sped up the process, because you can't stand that your dreams will only come true after you're dead, right? Poignant for sure. Also poignant is the observation that events change course based on observation. The mere act of observing will change the outcome of the event that's being observed. like that pop song 'I think we're alone now', we'll behave differently when we feel no one can see. Out the window goes propriety and in comes basic instinct. Like Isaac's character, who behaves as a human unbound, his intellect and income has afforded him the right to behave in a way that would get him labeled "stupid" if it weren't for being so unanimously considered "smart". There are a ton of great observations in Ex Machina, but like Gleeson's character, who continues to quote and not take credit for it, so too does our film amount to annotations of Silicon Valley's playbook.
The film chronicles a moment in time that we all, assuredly, feel we're going through - the death of humanity, of course. Soon our robotic mechanized masters will evolve from their roles as toasters and freezers and become what we've been told they will become for the last century - our overlords. We're assured of this by every move the film makes. Isaac's master of the universe character sees everything and everyone around him as putty in the hands of a genius. Regardless of if he's right or wrong, conscious entities hate that kind of shit, and so we watch as his creations and his 'biggest fan' type character begin to slowly turn on him. Perhaps it's being around the creations that are so easily created and destroyed by his hands that he forgets what it's like to have a human opponent. Perhaps he forgets that, though he maintains intellectual, physical and monetary dominance over Gleeson, he also can't drop his guard. The opening scene is a brilliant portrayal of this lack of empathy, telling Gleeson the range of emotions he is assuming Gleeson feels (a predictable response from someone meeting a superior, it's not rocket science that the 'genius' knows this, but it's the accepted response that takes place i humans during a moment like this. In order to maintain his grip on the societal conditioning he's been fed his entire life, Gleeson would need to behave this way because it's only proper to treat a superior this way in a mode of showing the proper respect. I digress, he concludes this eventually) and then telling him to "move past all that shit" so they can just be buds. Bros. Two dudes chillin out sharin a brew bro. How rock star of him. We all learn our type in life, eventually we get the notion that we don't want to be it and that we want to be something else. Nerds want to be rock stars, rock stars want to be nerds. The urban child romanticizes rural life and wants to move out to the country where everything is "simple". Rich kids want to live like homeless beggars, just to see, while the truly impoverished with nowhere to go want nothing more than to be rich, fed, clothed. Now the human wants to be as smart as a robot, and the robot wants to experience all the feelings of a human. What a world.
If I take any issue with the film, it's that it not only looks to be swinging for a home run, but has every ingredient to hit one, and still it walks to first. We've got a nice relationship between man and machine here set up, not much is done without beyond what's needed to advance the plot, but a lot of interesting ideas are hinted at and never explored. We've got a nice man to man plot set up as well, again, not much is done with it beyond a vague movement of story. This is not much of a minus, as the film sidesteps any temptation to become less of a film, it simply doesn't become more of a film. What I'd have liked to see, honestly, is that the film didn't change a thing. The film was fine, but the ending is essentially akin to the first two acts of Frankenstein and then leaving it at that. The meat of the Frankenstein story is what happens to the monster when it leaves the castle, meets a young girl, suddenly learns about death and so on. For this film to get us on a great track and then fade to black is a severe error between what is essentially a nicely done effort and the epic masterpiece that this feels like the first 2/3 of. Can't fault it too much, but it would have been epic. Oh well, the film has a lot going for it and it plays out what it has well. This is the difference between a would-be masterpiece and masterpiece.