News, Reviews

Zone 6: Ex Machina: A Sci Fi Movie for the Literary

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Two male characters spending the majority of the movie discussing human consciousness and tackling philosophical questions may not sound like an interesting hook to some, but its execution in Ex Machina is truly a work of art, and embodies the tradition of classic science fiction. Like Domnhall Gleeson, one of the movie’s main actors said: “Just because something is science fiction doesn’t make it just spaceships. In my head, they tell you more about people than they do about machines.”

Alex Garland, screenplay writer of 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. The title of the movie alone evokes the universal question all of science fiction tries to answer: “What makes us human?” Ex Machina, or “from the machine”, immediately incites feelings of the uncanny, challenging our preconceived notions of what it means to be human.

The movie sets itself up innocently enough, in that it deceives its audience into a seemingly simple plot. A programmer of the world’s most popular internet search company, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins a contest to meet his hero, one he describes as the “Mozart of Computer Programming” – Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb then travels to Nathan’s abode, where we are first introduced into the first lie, in a movie where the central theme is  deception and manipulation. Nathan’s hideout and laboratory is in the middle of a natural, beautiful landscape, the exterior of which is an inconspicuous cabin in he middle of the forest. Upon entering, Caleb finds himself in an immense mansion, complete with modern decoration, minimalist furniture, a vacant-looking Japanese maid, and a variety of android skins bearing creepy human expressions as decorations on the wall.

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Mysterious Skin

“A gorgeous, heartbreaking and utterly convincing work of art” — the New York Times

This movie was at times, too painful and disturbing to watch. But that’s what Araki seems to be going for, with this harsh but realistic portrayal of the long-term consequences of child abuse. The film tells the story of the two main characters, Neil (played excellently by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbet) who share nothing but an unfortunate, traumatizing experience with their baseball coach when they were 8 years old, and how they dealt with this memory ten years later.

The juxtaposition between the two’s coping mechanisms really accentuates the emotional toll that occurs with child molestation. Neil’s journey as a teenage prostitute is full of angst and vulnerability at the same time. He clings on the childish feeling that he was “special” and that his coach was his “one true love” in order to avoid the reality of his situation. He then takes on prostitution, more of a challenge than for necessity, in order to manifest “power” and “authority” over his johns. This power play quickly changes when he goes to New York city, where he meets an unfortunate turn with an NYC cop at Brighton Beach (don’t say I didn’t warn you, this scene made me cringe. I actually had to pause the film and go out for a walk to get my stomach to stop churning — and this is from the girl who watched Human Centipede 2 and saw the director’s immediate comedic reply to his critics through excessive gore). Kudos to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting–you have effectively scarred me for life.

Meanwhile, Brian’s defense mechanism relies on hardcore denial and alternate realities. He develops amnesia and convinces himself that aliens had abducted him during the five hours of his life that he seems to be missing. His journey is more fantastical and lends elements of a thriller/suspense charm to the whole film–which is essentially at the core of every abused child–finding the right answer to a question they are too young to form, and eventually have to deal with in their adult lives.

The last scene, as featured in the image above, is a saving grace for me, I have to admit. It is painful but it gives the melancholic sense (through the silence they contrast with the singing carolers) that healing can now begin for them both. I suggest watching this film cautiously, it is not for the faint of heart, but for those who seek to open their minds.