Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander
Alex Garland is already a well-respected author, scriptwriter and producer, who has an impressive body of work. He wrote the scripts to 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, helped with the screenplay to Never Let Me Go and wrote the book The Beach, upon which Danny Boyle’s 2000 film is based. After all of that, Alex Garland has decided to turn his considerable skills to directing his first feature film, Ex Machina, which certainly does not look nor sound like a directorial debut.
Ex Machina follows the story of a young programmer, Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), who wins a competition to go and spend a week with the genius and reclusive owner of the search engine Bluebook (like Google only better), Nathan (Oscar Isaac). However, when he finally gets to Nathan’s incredibly not-so-humble abode, located in a secluded spot surrounded by nature and beautiful landscapes, Caleb discovers that he has actually been offered the opportunity to perform the Turning test on Nathan’s recent, and most groundbreaking and breathtaking experiment, Ava (Alicia Vikander), who is potentially the world’s first true A.I.
Ex Machina is an incredible piece of work. It’s a sci-fi picture set in a remote location, full of big ideas, mind bending theories and themes about the potential ramifications of creating a true A.I. It’s a film more about its ideas, rather than its set pieces, in fact if you are looking for a Star Wars-esc sci-fi picture, this is not the film for you. However, Ex Machina is so much more than that.
One could describe this film as being The Shining meets Her. It’s a dark film, with definite horror undertones. The secluded location, the ever-present sense of danger; the film’s eeriness, the disturbing genius billionaire Nathan and Ava herself, all bring to mind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Alex Garland has a history of dealing with dark material, and this is no exception, if anything this film is not about the creation of an A.I, but the potential extinction of humanity.
The film centres around conversations and it’s in these conversations where the real drama lies. The interchanges between Caleb and Nathan are riveting, full of mistrust, deceit and humour. The same could be said about the conversations between Caleb and Ava, in which Caleb is trying to figure out whether she really is able to think for herself, to express feelings like a human. It’s in these conversations where themes such a love, sex, family, relationship, deception and humanity are discussed.
Alex Garland made sure that he casted the very best actors in the roles of Caleb, Nathan and Ava. Oscar Isaac manages to portray a man with an unbelievable intellect who is gradually losing himself in his work, yet also is able to give him a brooding, almost bear like quality which adds danger and mystery to his character. Any man sporting a hair style and beard like Oscar Isaac’s in this film must have his demons. Domnhall Gleeson is perfect as the shy coder who slowly grows out of his shell and eventually demonstrates that there is a lot more to him than meets the eye.
Then we have Alicia Vikander, who portrays the A.I Ava with poise and precision. You quickly forget that you are watching a human pretending to be a computer and just believe her to be a real A.I. Her movements, the way she speaks, the way she looks, how she is so clearly a robot, yet also something else entirely, all lend themselves perfectly to the role of Ava. They all add a certain intrigue, intellect and even a sinister quality to her character. You can’t help but feel unnerved by her presence.
In terms of direction, the film is flawless. The film looks stunning and sounds incredible. The beautifully remote setting, the confined spaces, the set design, the camera work, the film’s colour palette, the sound design, the whirring noises of Ava’s mechanic body; all of this is perfect. You’d be hard pushed to believe that Ex Machina was directed by a first-time director.
Alex Garland has really pulled off something special. Ex Machina is a visceral, engaging, though-provoking and an unnerving experience. It’s a truly great film and one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory.