“Ex Machina” Review
I admit I’m a little late to reviewing this film, and I’m not even sure if it’s still in theaters. Regardless, we exist in an internet age where people can track down nearly any film, so here comes a strong recommendation for a film worth tracking down.
“Ex Machina” is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, an author/screenwriter best known for penning sci-fi movies like “Sunshine”, “28 Days Later” and “Never Let Me Go”. I was already a fan of Garland going in, as he writes in a style of sci-fi with interesting concepts that relies just as much on character as it does conceptual ideas. This is absolutely the case with “Ex Machina”, which operates as a three handed character piece about artificial intelligence. The basic set-up is as follows: Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a computer programmer who works at a Google-esque company is invited by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive billionaire genius who runs the company to his estate. There, Nathan introduces him to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a female humanoid robot whom he wants Caleb to perform tests on to see how convincingly human she is.
From there, the plot builds into a number of twisty, unexpected directions. After the introduction of Ava, the film very quickly becomes a study on human sexuality and sexual impulses. I found this angle on the subject of artificial intelligence to be intriguing and not something I’ve ever really seen explored in film. This is a potentially icky subject, but Garland is a smart writer who handles it impeccably. Though the film is serious and thought-provoking, Garland makes the effort to sprinkle in little touches of humor, which are well-placed and help to give the film some levity.
The best part of “Ex Machina” for me was the three central performances. Though not nearly as charismatic a presence as either Isaac or Vikander, Gleeson makes for a very grounded and relatable central character. His awkwardness could be both played and written as one-note but he is given more depth than that. Isaac, who after “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “A Most Violent Year”, is on an incredible roll again hits it out of the park with this performance. Nathan’s motivations are uncertain and something feels off about him from the very first time we meet him, but the performance is very specific and helps build him into a well-rounded character. I think “Ex Machina” will be remembered as the breakout performance for Vikander, who does such an extraordinary job of portraying the not-quite-human physicality of Ava. It is a performance of breathtaking technical precision complemented by her striking presence, which helps make Ava feel every bit as human as she’s designed to seem.
Again, I can’t recommend this film enough, although the ending was not as strong as the earlier parts. A-