One of mankind's defining traits has been the ability to think abstractly and to create using our imaginations. There have been a rash of movies about artificially intelligent robots turning on humanity and we will be getting many more in the near future ranging from Avengers: Age of Ultron to Terminator: Genisys. In his directorial debut, Alex Garland has made a film that adds yet even more to the conversation with Ex Machina.
One of the first things that is clear about the movie is that it intends on subverting expectations. It is not a movie with an elaborate set-up or origin story, it simply starts with a call to action and moves forward. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb Smith, a computer coder for Nathan Bateman's billion dollar technology business. The film begins with him winning the company lottery to spend a week with the elusive mogul, played by Oscar Isaac, at his hidden hideout. Nathan quickly reveals the true purpose for his contest. He is looking for someone to perform a Turing test, a series of examinations that tests sentience, on his robot that he has secretly created. Nathan has created the world's most advanced A.I. system and he is preparing to make it public, but first it has to pass the test...
The film builds up the eccentricities of the reclusive genius, letting the viewer and Caleb's imagination run wild with who the Wizard of Oz-like mogul really is. The moment we meet him, he disarmingly greets Caleb as "dude." Isaac's Nathan Bateman is an extremely complex character and director Alex Garland makes sure to not fall into any stereotypes, whether with the characters or with the plot. Yes, Nathan is a genius on the level of Stephen Hawkings or even Albert Einstein, yet he is down to Earth and loves to indulge in alcohol. As he explains, he balances out his alcoholism with a meticulous diet and workout plan, this is not your ordinary evil scientist. He can be inviting, frightening, thoughtful, and manipulative. When Caleb has conversations with him, it is clear that Nathan is thinking four questions ahead. Isaac completely owns the role and the screen every time he appears.
Gleeson plays Caleb with a quiet naivete that you immediately root for, despite not having a backstory provided. Gleeson is able to convey monologues with simple glances and he is well paired with Isaac. Hopefully they will get to share the screen in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because they do have an awkward, yet dynamic chemistry. Alicia Vikander gives a nuanced performance as the A.I. robot Ava, whose believability is crucial to the entire movie's success. Nathan has designed the robot to have curiosity, intuition, sexuality, and genuine emotion. Vikander is able to bring the character to life in more ways than one.
The movie is filmed with confidence, allowing the story and dialogue time to breathe and for tensions to build. For a film that is smaller scale, it is beautifully shot, particularly the wide shots of the glaciers and forests that are a part of Nathan's estate. Garland has written some of the best science-fiction movies of the 21st century, including Sunshine and 28 Days Later, however this is his directing debut and it does not show. He is completely confident in his own storytelling and does not substitute action for substance. Not only was he able to write an exceptional screenplay, but he managed to get outstanding performances from his very talented cast. Definitely keep an eye on Garland as he is sure to make his presence known even more now in Hollywood.
The movie feels like a throwback science fiction film, where the intensity doesn't come from the visuals or set pieces. The shock and awe comes from complex questions about morality, sentience, and empathy, that Garland asks the viewer. The film is also unconventional because it never clearly lets the viewer know who they should be rooting for. Is Bateman a controlling evil scientist? Is Caleb a noble man? Is Ava alive and if she is, does that make her inherently good? Garland never fully lets you know who the hero is. The fun thing about the movie is that all those questions do get addressed. But as soon as the motivations for each character seems clear, Garland is able to shift the perspective yet again. They are all schemers in one way or another and the way each person's true face is revealed is gripping.
Ex Machina is a thought-provoking and haunting film that will linger with you for days after you watch it. The film manages to ask many important questions about human's reliance on technology, ambition, and primal desires. It's a slow-burning movie that falls closer to the tree of Stanley Kubrick than Michael Bay, so don't go in expecting an action-adventure. The movie does what quality science-fiction does in any medium, it uses futuristic and fantastic ideas to inform us about the present state of humanity. Garland is able to craft a modern day Frankenstein tale, that would fit quite nicely in the Twilight Zone. For fans of cerebral sci-fi, Ex Machina is an absolute must-see and passes the test.
Source: Point of Geeks