This is the near future. A sleek black helicopter flies toward a place that looks like the Arctic. Miles upon miles of hills and fields are covered in ice and snow. There is only one passenger in the helicopter; he is a young employee, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, who in this film looks like a young Bill Gates, and with good reason), of a huge internet corporation that's very much like Facebook. It is, in fact, called Bluebook (a name based on a book of lectures delivered by the early-20th-century philosopher and logician Ludwig Wittgenstein). In a competition, Caleb has won the honor of meeting his boss, Nathan (rising star Oscar Isaac), a man who has amassed the kind of fortune that can buy the whole Arctic and who has plans for his employee.

Caleb soon learns that his boss is developing a robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), with the power of self-awareness. But the trillionaire wants to be certain about his creation (which is top secret and the next big thing that will change human history and make him yet another trillion bucks). He wants proof that it is as self-aware as a human. It is Caleb's job to determine the extent, depth, and realness of the robot's self-awareness. He begins performing tests on the beautiful Ava, which unlike the beautiful Rachael in Blade Runner is aware that it is a robot, created by a human.

I very much doubt that the year will produce a better sci-fi film than Ex Machina. It has a solid plot with a pace that is not slow but not at all fast. Every word matters in this film: not a look, movement, or sequence is wasted by first-time director Alex Garland. And it all leads to an impressive conclusion that's not so much about the future but about what it really takes to stage a revolt against your masters. The break (or, to use the language of Foucault, the rupture) has to be brutal and total. For the effective beginning of a new world, nothing of the past must be preserved. recommended