Ex Machina

Thematically epic look at the philosophy of artificial intelligence

Almost 200 years after Mary Shelly penned “Frankenstein,” we’re seeing an increase in movies with the not-dissimilar theme of artificial intelligence. Her, Chappie, and don’t forget 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland’s impressive directing debut, an adept, low-level search engine programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest set up by his reclusive (and quite possibly mad) genius boss (Oscar Isaac) to help him determine through a series of “Turing tests” whether “Ava,” his latest AI robot (Alicia Vikander), has, long story short, achieved consciousness. Somewhat predictably, he begins to have feelings for her, and her for him. But are hers “real” feelings or is she just mimicking him? Or worse?

Thematically epic while still managing to provide pulpy sci-fi thrills, this is a smart and original bit of speculative yet plausible science fiction about artificial intelligence that has some genuinely intelligent things to say, most interestingly about human nature.

I’ll watch anything with the versatile Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Inside Llewyn Davis), and the young Gleeson is fast building an impressive filmography (the Harry Potter movies, Anna Karenina, Unbroken, Star Wars, The Revenant).

But the movie belongs to the stunning Vikander (The Danish Girl, Seventh Son) and her haunting, not-quite-human portrayal of Ava.

Suspenseful, quietly unnerving, and never less than riveting, this is one of those movies that messes with your head stays with you for weeks. (108 min)