I know what you’re thinking: “The Machine looks, sounds and quacks like a science fiction movie; c’mon, Mouse, you do horror flicks, right? What gives?” I assure you, I haven’t completely lost my mind; I ask that you Fellow Fans give me your trust and bear with me just a bit and hear me out; I’ll explain myself, I promise.
In the near future, the new arms race is artificial intelligence. Rising political tensions have made China and the West bitter enemies, and Vincent is a top scientist working for the British Ministry of Defence on the secrets of the perfect fighting machine. Ava is an independent expert who has built the first truly thinking, learning computer. Together, this pair begins to combine their discoveries to making a simulacrum of an actual living mind. As their relationship grows beyond the professional, we learn that Vincent is really in this to find a cure for his severely mentally-disabled daughter; his research has already developed implants that return some emotion and quality of life to horribly brain-damaged soldiers. Ava, pleased with the concept of using money intended for war to heal, pledges to help any way she can to find a cure for his child. Unfortunately, she is killed by apparent Chinese spies before they can complete their work. Saddened but galvanized, Vincent finishes the experiment, using Ava’s vocal and semantic imprints, brain scans, memories, and even appearance to create an amazing android with the artificial brain they developed. The experiment is a resounding success; perhaps too much of a success. The android shows advanced learning and actual compassion almost from the moment it opens its eyes; Vincent begins to feel that perhaps they have accidentally created a new form of life. His government handlers, however, see only the destructive potential of the android, and are not at all interested in its “wants” or “feelings”; it is a machine, they are the masters. Any consideration of such a concept as the automaton’s “desires” is ludicrous…but it seems that maybe, just maybe, the android has its own ideas how it wishes to live.
I found the acting in this flick very strong. Toby Stephens as Vincent was immaculate as both the stern scientist and the pained father. Denis Lawson (whom nerds like me will always remember as Wedge Antilles) was a perfectly arrogant asshole bureaucrat with no regard for anything that doesn’t get the job done.
Caity Lotz, however, playing a double role as both Ava and the android, simply blew me away. She turns out a performance that I found absolutely overpowering. While her portrayal of Ava was spot-on, it was as the android that she truly shone; her raw, innocent performance as the mechanical being trying to live was astounding. Lotz’s depiction of the evolution of the character is emotionally powerful; several scenes are absolutely heart-wrenching. The script is bleak but tight, well-composed, and thought-provoking. It fearlessly asks the question of just what constitutes life, and if something is alive, does it matter that it was built in a workshop? Questions are raised about our human arrogance and failings, and the direction and scripting forces us to consider it under the guise of being entertained. The moody cinematography paints the government facility as a dark, cold and emotionless place, clinical and without remorse or compassion; very fitting for the subject matter. The special effects as it applied to the “android” parts of the film are used moderately but effectively, and for those times that call for blood, it sprays and flows with abandon.
I’ve seen others make comparisons of this film to Blade Runner; I can see that. I personally found myself thinking of Frankenstein; not for the concept of the creation of life, but instead for taking responsibility for and respecting that life once it exists. Any comparison should take nothing away from this movie; it stands on its own as both a dystopic vision and emotional drama.
All right, now that all is said and done, I’ll admit it; this one is primarily a sci-fi flick…however, when you get down to brass tacks, the subtext of the film and the questions that it raises in your mind bring forth a most horrific concept…not to mention that there’s a good bit of blood spurting, bone-cracking, ass-kicking violence; definitely brought a smile to my face. I think “sci-fi thriller” is a good tag to hang on it.
Nonetheless, any movie that can give me such big ideas to roll around in my head, creep me out with its suggestions and ramifications, and leave me genuinely wanting more when it’s over …
…well, that movie can sit in my review queue anytime.
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