Invited to participate in a breakthrough experiment in A.I., a young programmer is selected to evaluate the human qualities of a breathtaking female robot in Alex Garland’s brilliant Ex Machina.
Undoubtedly, Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s finest work, even surpassing Danny Boyle’s underrated masterpiece Sunshine, almost as if Garland has been slowly building up towards making his “Magnus Opus” and this is his most successful and satisfying creation yet. There are some big ideas housed in these closing walls, which does relate back to the film’s burning claustrophobia. Ex Machina is an old-fashioned, grown-up science fiction in the manner of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Westworld and so on. You can imagine someone like Stanley Kubrick or Christopher Nolan making something like this, but the film brilliantly has a dark satirical underpinning that distinguishes itself and it’s all the better for it.
The film is ultimately a three-hander in which you never quite know what anybody’s motives are, you never know what they truly want or need, and collectively, all three leads give incredibly solid performances. Oscar Isaac perfectly inhabits this bulked-up, slightly bear-like figure that parties alone, and you get that sense that he has gone “off the map” and has lost touch with his own humanity. He’s self-aggrandising, yet deliberately duplicitous and you never seem to know what’s going on his slightly warped mind. In contrast, Domhnall Gleeson is the polar opposite as he’s this awkward geek that’s completely lost and out-of-his-depth in this sterile modernistic architecture, but as he gets more acquainted with Ava, he starts showing us his true colours.
However, the mercurial Alicia Vikander is undeniably the true standout off the film, delivering a hypnotic performance that brilliantly blurs the line between the mechanical and the organic (the natural and the unnatural). It’s a note-perfect depiction of ever-so-slightly unnatural movement, yet it’s physically one of exquisite elegance and beauty, and emotionally she’s perfectly controlled and on point. That’s all down to a sublime combination of Vikander’s balletic physicality and Double Negative’s excellently rendered computer graphics.
Actually, the film’s central thesis of artificial intelligence and the singularity would be that of attraction, and the rules of attraction is brought into play by Ava herself as the film raises the questions of whether or not a machine can think for itself or whether it is possible for machines to be attractive or attracted, having a sexual component involved. There are also comparisons to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner where it questioned whether or not its lifelike replicants could really fall in love or can possibly have souls, and there’s also Steven Spielberg’s AI, where a robot child is created to find out if it can love. Plus, Caleb falling for Ava can be seen in the same way as Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore falling for Johansson’s “Samantha” in Spike Jonze’s Her, with his ardour being undiminished by the absolute awareness that she is an operating system.
Ex Machina deals and tackles with serious and weighty issues about intelligence, the artificial and natural, duplicitous sexuality, what you keep covered and what you reveal, yet it deals with them in the manner of a very stylish, sci-fi, B-Movie, which it is at heart, and isn’t afraid of being edgy, visceral, exploitative and titillating when it needs to be. Being a fan of both B-Movies and science fiction films, all that hugely appealed to me, and this film understands its science fiction heritage, plus it plays the relationship between those three central characters really well, and because Alicia Vikander has created such a strong character, she completely steals the film out from under everybody’s nose.
Ex Machina is undoubtedly one of the most well thought out sci-fi films of recent years, being visually stylish, incredibly unnerving, uncomfortable at times, and boasting three strong performances; Garland has arrived in the director’s chair fully formed as a filmmaker to watch out for.