The best films stay with you. They linger on your mind for days, sometimes months after the credits roll, interpretations and ideas circulating.
One of my two favourite movies of last year (and quite possibly the best film ever to feature a synchronised disco routine between a human and a robot), Ex Machina totally fits that bill.
There was a lot to love about Alex Garland's debut feature. Alicia Vikander, taking a well-earned rest from playing virtually every human female role in Hollywood, is Ava, an advanced robot created by billionaire tech CEO Nathan.
Nathan, a reclusive genius type with a hefty chip on his shoulder, uses a lottery to select an employee from his company to witness first-hand the progress he's made in creating genuine Artificial Intelligence.
So far, so standard sci-fi, but the film rattles through this exposition at lightning speed to get us to the real meat of the story: the three-pronged game of wits between Nathan, Ava, and lucky lottery winner Caleb.
Nathan wants to know if he's been successful in creating true AI, the kind that can channel human emotions too complex to be the result of programming. Lust, jealousy, deceit. The obvious problem with this is that a robot with true AI is able to manipulate to the same degree as any given human being, and it might not always been in her interests to play her hand straight off the bat.
For all that this is Ava's film, though - and it really is, even though it's through Caleb's eyes that we're introduced - it's her creator who comes dangerously close to stealing the show, whether relishing in making his houseguest feel uncomfortable or inviting his borderline fetishized Japanese maid to dance with him (the genius of the dance sequence being that, despite seeming impromptu, both man and robot hit every move, suggesting those moves are pre-programmed. Which is hilarious and downright weird).
Getting inside Nathan's head is tricky to say the least.
A Youtuber called Mr. Nerdista, for whom clearly Ex Machina proved a classic brain-lingerer, has studied various aspects of the film and hit some really interesting conclusions about the way in which Nathan's remote forest home, so far from anywhere that Caleb has to arrive by helicopter, acts as a metaphor for what's going on in his psyche.
Check it out below.
After watching Ex Machina two or three times, I found myself with several unanswered questions regarding Nathan. Is he aware that he's created something more advanced than even he had dared to dream?
Note that he doesn't appear surprised when he tells Caleb he's allowed himself to be manipulated by Ava - if anything, there's an air of smugness about Nathan in this scene, above and beyond his prototypical arrogance. He expected this.
So why does it never cross his mind that he too might have fallen prey to the robot's clear talent for self-preservation? Is he so consumed in his ego that it never occurred to him he should have reason to fear Ava?
Ex Machina is the kind of experience that could reveal some of these answers whilst posing other questions with each viewing. If only one thing's for sure it's that Oscar Isaac fully embodies Nathan's physicality, his narcissism, whilst still giving his performance a distant quality befitting of possibly the first man gifted enough to create genuine Artificial Intelligence. If it's not possible to truly read Nathan, Garland achieved what he intended to with his character.
Ex Machina is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray, and available to stream on Amazon Prime.