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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ex Machina Review: Hall of the Mountain King

This movie is brilliant. It's Black Mirror with a bigger budget. Learning more about it would only ruin the surprise. It's an intimate, slow moving, beast that eventually leans back on it's hind legs and rips your face off.  I could go on, and I will, but you should see it first.

Still here? Need a little more to go on? Fine, but that's not what I want for you guys. You should have absolutely no idea where it's going or who any of the characters are. But here we go: Caleb is a junior programmer at this world's equivalent of Google... or Facebook. It's kind of an amalgamation. Either way, he's selected to join the company's reclusive CEO at his mansion somewhere in the frozen wilderness. I think it's Alaska.

Unassuming nice guy, Caleb, is now deep in Nathan Bateman's element. Oscar Isaac plays his eccentric billionaire so delicately I'm going to try my best to put it into words. Here goes: High functioning hipster sociopath with delusions of godhood. See... that doesn't give his subtly justice. He's got that "rich creep who desperately tries to be the everyman" thing going for him. I can't tell you how perfectly he nails all those Kubrick wannabes I've let talk my ear off at parties on how they're going to change the world.

I like your foreshadowy skull there...

Only Nathan actually did. There's a robot in this movie too and that's what makes this film so special. I just spent three paragraphs setting up the protagonist. You thought it was Caleb didn't you? Nah. He just has the most screen time. I'm not trying to spoil anything, but do try to keep Ava's prospective in mind at all times.

It's a foregone conclusion that Alicia Vikander has "broken out." But I can't discribe her performance without spoiling her arc or intentions. Which are both the whole point of the film.


"Oh don't get me started on i7 processors. You do not want to plumb the depths of my rage over i7 processors!"

She's playing everyone. She was programmed to. We never get to see the real Ava because she never lets you. She's tasked with escaping Nathan's compound and she does so brilliantly. The depth of Ava's deception is mostly thanks to Vikander who plays the virginal honey trap like I've never seen... hell, I fell for it. Harder than I like to admit. This is also a perfect date movie for the right kind of  girl. 

People are throwing Kubrick's name around in terms of visuals and they're not wrong. But I'd argue Kubrick wasn't this feminist. EM may not exactly pass the Bechdel test, but it is angrily anti-patriarchy. Even though it doesn't seem that way for the vast majority of the running time. It's shockingly refreshing in that regard. The camera pans over Ava are sexual, but never lurid. There's also a quick disco dance sequence that's also the most upsetting rape scene I can remember.

If for nothing else, enjoy this movie for butchering the "nice guy as de-facto hero" trope. I'm really sick if it. I don't care that I identified with Caleb the most. I don't care that I probably would have done everything he did. I care that the movie explicitly called out his unearned expectations for sex and violently denied them. He didn't deserve it and Ava deserved to be free. 

It's a great sexual politics yarn that everyone over the age of 18 needs to see.


  1. A rather strange flick. However, it's one that hardly ever lost my interest, nor didn't surprise me. Nice review Alex.

  2. (Watches trailer.) Holy shit.