A lonely man falls in love with his artificially-intelligent operating system.
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, and Amy Adams
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
In my reviews for our previous two AI movies, Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina, I’ve described both as technically impressive but emotionally cold. I largely fail the altered Turing test in Ex Machina, where Oscar Isaac’s Nathan wants his human test subject to develop strong feelings for an android. I never cared about any of the characters in 2049 even as I was wowed by the imagery and the vision. This is often the case with sci-fi, a genre where writers and directors automatically translate a distance onto human-machine interactions, or settle for the marvel and skimp on the resonance. The best of the genre, of which I would include Her, start with the raw question (Dan Harmon has described sci-fi as simply asking What If), apply it to recognizable human behavior, and follow it to a natural conclusion. Her keeps this formula as simple as it can, asking a minimal amount of buy-in from the viewer, building an unostentatious world, and daring them to fall into the central relationship between a man and his operating system while still doubting the wisdom of doing so. Her does it all and more, as plausible a vision of the future as it is a romance and a treatise on isolation.
The title of Alex Garland's sci-fi film is notable for what it leaves out. Ex Machina is missing the Deus that typically leads that phrase, meaning God of the Machine. A Deus Ex Machina is a dramatic device in which a powerful solution is presented to a difficult problem. Ex Machina doesn't resort to this often-cheap device, but by cutting God out of the title, it does invite the question of who in the film might fill that role. Is it the inventor, the vastly-powerful invented, or the mediator between the two that drives the action? As the writer of top-notch sci-fi films like Sunshine, 28 Days Later, and Never Let Me Go, Garland has long interrogated the relationship between creator and created, as well as the distance between cold rationality and empathetic feeling. In his directorial debut, Ex Machina is of a kind with his previous work, as artificial intelligence is subbed in for contagion, cloning, or space travel while the themes remain the same.
Before diving into the review proper, let’s get a couple important questions out of the way…
SHOULD YOU SEE THE ORIGINAL? – Probably, but it isn’t required viewing. A few pieces of the aesthetic might be lost in translation, but you really don’t need much beyond a basic understanding of who Deckard is, who Rachel is, and their relationship. Everything else can be gleaned from context within the movie.
SPOILER-FREE, SHOULD I SEE THIS? – More than likely yes. The pacing is a bit deliberate by today’s standards, but if you like Denis Villeneuve’s previous outings Sicario and especially Arrival, or you’re a fan of the original, you should see this. And try to see it on IMAX or Cinemark xD or something like that, because this is a visual spectacle.
Ok, and with that, onto the show…
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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