A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
‘Ex Machina’ is an intelligent piece of science fiction, with a slow burning script prompting the viewer to think with some great ideas about the nature of artificial intelligence. The premise surrounds a young coder called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who works for a company called Bluebook which happens to be the largest internet search engine in the world (no prizes for guessing who they are modelled on!). He wins a competition to spend a week at the reclusive CEO’s mansion in a vast estate in the middle of nowhere, with no knowledge of the purpose for the trip. On arrival, the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) explains the real reason behind the trip, which is for Caleb to spend time with a humanoid robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander) to investigate whether it actually depicts human intelligence, or merely simulates it.
From the outset, an unnerving, creepy tone is established and Oscar Isaac’s Nathan appears to be at best, weird, and at worst, untrustworthy. This foreboding atmosphere is aided by the terrific score from Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, alongside Garland’s direction which emphasises the sterile environment of the mansion, where the living spaces don’t feel much different from the research labs. In terms of the tone and feel, I found there to be many similarities with Charlie Brooker’s TV series ‘Black Mirror’, particularly in the depiction of science fiction and a future that doesn’t feel too far away from our current reality. The closer the depiction of science fiction is to our reality, the more I feel it resonates with the viewer (see ‘Her’ from 2014, another excellent film about AI, which takes an entirely different tact on the subject).
Domhnall Gleeson has established a solid career in supporting roles primarily, but his few lead roles have shown his ability to play a capable ‘everyman’ and he anchors the film well, caught between the eccentric Nathan and the attractive Ava (Alicia Vikander). Isaac’s great fun as the CEO- funny, jovial and a little eccentric, but with a sharp undercurrent that there might be something unsavoury lurking beneath the friendly exterior. Vikander plays Ava extremely well, with her naive beauty drawing Caleb in, and her poker face masking the true thoughts and feelings inside her artificial head. Throughout Garland’s excellent script, the balance of power between the three characters is constantly changing, and the improvisation and planning on all parts is thrilling to watch.
The film is written and directed by Alex Garland in his feature debut, following a lengthy career writing screenplays, most notably with Danny Boyle (The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later). In his previous screenplays, Garland has shown his ability to develop an excellent premise into an involving screenplay, before failing to follow the great build up with a strong third act, but thankfully there are no problems here. The final act of ‘Ex Machina’ is emotionally satisfying, thought provoking and an ultimately clever pay off based on the events leading to that point.
‘Ex Machina‘ is an excellent piece of science fiction, confident enough in its ideas to leave them open to interpretation, with great performances and a brilliant conclusion that leaves the viewer to ponder its themes long after leaving the cinema. Recommended.
Directed By: Alex Garland
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno
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