|Sex slave "Kyoko" played by Japanese/British actress Sonoya Mizuno [image source]|
by Sharon H Chang
Last month British science fiction thriller Ex Machina opened in the U.S. to almost unanimous rave reviews. The film was written and directed by Alex Garland, author of bestselling 1996 novel The Beach (also made into a movie) and screenwriter of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let Me Go (2010). Ex Machina is Garland's directorial debut. It's about a young white coder named Caleb who gets the opportunity to visit the secluded mountain home of his employer Nathan, pioneering programmer of the world's most powerful search engine (Nathan's appearance is ambiguous but he reads non-white and the actor who plays him is Guatemalan). Caleb believes the trip innocuous but quickly learns that Nathan's home is actually a secret research facility in which the brilliant but egocentric and obnoxious genius has been developing sophisticated artificial intelligence. Caleb is immediately introduced to Nathan's most upgraded construct - a gorgeous white fembot named Ava. And the mind games ensue.
As the week unfolds the only things we know for sure are (a) imprisoned Ava wants to be free, and, (b) Caleb becomes completely enamored and wants to "rescue" her. Other than that, nothing is clear. What are Ava's true intentions? Does she like Caleb back or is she just using him to get out? Is Nathan really as much an asshole as he seems or is he putting on a show to manipulate everyone? Who should we feel sorry for? Who should we empathize with? Who should we hate? Who's the hero? Reviewers and viewers alike are melting in intellectual ecstasy over this brain-twisty movie. The Guardian calls it "accomplished, cerebral film-making"; Wired calls it "one of the year's most intelligent and thought-provoking films"; Indiewire calls it "gripping, brilliant and sensational". Alex Garland apparently is the smartest, coolest new director on the block. "Garland understands what he's talking about," says RogerEbert.com, and goes "to the trouble to explain more abstract concepts in plain language."