Ex Machina

Ex Machina photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe story is simple. A young programmer wins the opportunity to spend a week at the private mountain retreat of his boss Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive billionaire and internet search-engine mogul. When he gets there, he’s asked to sign a non disclosure agreement before they can even proceed. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) has actually won the chance to evaluate the aptitude and consciousness of a beautiful and sophisticated robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). But robot seems almost like an outmoded term in this case. For you see, the capabilities of Ava far exceed the intellect of any mere machine. Caleb will determine whether she has the competence to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from that of a human.

Ex Machina concerns the philosophy of artificial intelligence. The chronicle is built around the monitored conversations that Caleb has with Ava. The first day, Caleb questions Ava, but on the second day, Ava questions him. The insightful script plays with the way humans talk and then how a computer would glean information from that interaction. “Does Ava feel?” is a key question. Ex Machina does a great job and presenting a lot of interesting topics for discussion. Caleb’s sessions with Nathan when he reports his findings are equally important. Of course Caleb’s interactions with Ava are being watched, but what Nathan observes is not as important and the way Caleb reports on it. Occasionally power failures affect the means with which Nathan can monitor these sessions. That’s when the exchanges between Ava and Caleb get really juicy.

Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is an arrogant tech tycoon with a bit of a God complex. With his shaved head and bushy beard, He wants to present himself as this approachable laid back guy, but we immediately realize he is anything but. He’s an über control freak that works out incessantly throughout the day and parties even harder at night. There’s an intensity to him that is unsettling. Take Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the Japanese servant girl he employs. He values her inability to speak or understand English. In this way he can freely talk trade secrets around her. His insulting disregard for her borders on misogyny. Even when he’s ostensibly just boogieing down to a disco ditty with her, there’s still something menacing about the act.

That brings us to his technological creation Ava: a very female entity. She has the face, hands and feet of a human woman but the body of a cyborg, although still shapely. As manifested by actress Alicia Vikander, she is a hypnotic creation. The Swedish dancer trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Stockholm for nine years. With her lithesome movements and graceful placement, she suggests a very carefully studied decision to move. The fact that she is female is a very deliberate component to her creation. After all, an artificially intelligent computer need not have a sex. The objectification of the female body courtesy of her creator. This idea is found elsewhere in the narrative, but to reveal more would be to spoil the discovery.

Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s feature debut as a director. But he’s no newbie to film. The English novelist has been writing for years. His first novel The Beach was turned into a movie by Danny Boyle. It would mark the beginning of several partnerships between the two. He most successfully penned the post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later. In 2007 he wrote the screenplay for Boyle’s Sunshine and then they executive produced 28 Weeks Later together. But perhaps the director Garland more closely references this time, is the work of Mark Romanek. With its austere environment and smooth shiny surfaces the film occasionally recalls his glossy music videos “Scream” (Michael & Janet Jackson) and “Bedtime Story” (Madonna). The two collaborated when Romanek directed Never Let Me Go which Garland adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian sci-fi novel.

Artificial Intelligence is the topic at hand. Given the heady subject matter, I was surprised with the very basic way in which the idea is handled. Ex Machina is entertaining, though the narrative doesn’t tread any new ground. Some interesting concepts are brought up, but nothing particularly innovative is resolved. This is a glorified episode of The Twilight Zone. However the stripped down, simple design is visually attractive. Nathan’s subterranean compound is a modern architectural wonder in the middle of a forest. His lair is both richly appealing and menacingly claustrophobic. The style makes the story seem weightier than it really is. There’s precious little depth, but heck if the whole thing isn’t entertaining. Caleb, Ava and Nathan form an emotional triangle of sorts that seduce, attack, argue, persuade and sympathize. Ultimately, the tale is a triumph because I was captivated throughout.


21 Responses to “Ex Machina”

  1. Great review. For some reason, this reminds me a bit of Almodóvar’s “La Piel que Habito”. Looks fascinating and I’ll definitely check this one out.


  2. GaryGreg828 Says:

    Just wanted to see your rating to see if it got your approval, in which it did. I will definitely go see now and then come back to read your review. I am glad you liked this one better than “Lucy”. 🙂


    • That’s an interesting comparison because I did enjoy Lucy actually, but in a totally different way. Ex Machina because of its contemplative mood and Lucy because of its (somewhat unintentional) comedy.


  3. Great review Mark. Garland creates an incredible atmosphere here and it’s a shame that the AI themes don’t really take us anywhere new. I was captivated by the performances but, as ‘grown-up’ sci-fi, it falls a little short of Her and Under The Skin for me.


  4. I really loved Alex Garland’s book, The Beach. How cool he’s behind the camera! I’ve heard very good things about this film. Great review, I’m excited to see it.


  5. I’m waiting for this movie! Great review 😉 https://cinemaliquido.wordpress.com/


  6. Awesome. I’m looking forward to this quite a lot more now.


  7. I definitely agree that there’s nothing new but the way the subject matter is handled is ultimately gripping and very interesting.


  8. Great take. I believe I too wasn’t blown away but anyone with some passing interest in the genre needs to give this a view. Very interested in Issac with this and the work he’s been doing lately in other productions.


  9. Glad you liked it! Alex Garland’s arrival behind the camera is a welcome one. Ex Machina is an engaging, creepy, entertaining and bold sci-fi thriller.


  10. I was initially excited about Ex Machina, because I love Alex Garland’s work, especially in his collaborations with Danny Boyle. That excitement cooled after I heard middling to not-so-great things about the film from colleagues. I’m feeling encouraged again after reading your review. Even if the topic isn’t complicated and it doesn’t tread new ground, the movie sounds aesthetically interesting and I love the actors involved, so I think I’d be captivated as well. Oscar Isaac is perfect at exuding that unsettling intensity that you talk about. He’s one of my favorite actors working today.


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