What it means to be human has been explored many times in the film world. Science fiction has been especially interested in this question. Ex_Machina, directed and written by Alex Garland (first film as director), is not hardcore sci fi per se but it does involve artificial intelligence and other stuff that does not exist in today’s world. Despite it rather odd and unique way of presenting the story it is very effective and emotional. You can be laughing one moment and then frightened the next. Subtle, yet highly effective.
Bluebook is the world’s most popular search engine. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson – Brooklyn, The Revenant) is a coder at the company. He is excited when he wins a competition at work and the prize is that he is invited to live for a week at the estate of the company’s owner, Nathan (Oscar Isaac – Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis).
Once he is flown to the estate by helicopter he soon is told that it is not really a home rather a state of the art research facility. After signing the non-disclosure contract that Nathan insists upon, Caleb begins to work at assessing the responses and emotions of an A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl, Burnt).
During a power outage, in which the cameras and audio equipment Nathan is using to monitor them goes out, Ava tells Caleb not to trust Nathan. This leads to Ava and Caleb hatching a plan to get “her” out of the compound. At the same time Nathan is telling Caleb that Ava is manipulating him. Now it is up to Caleb to try and figure out who is telling the truth.
The cast is rather small with really only three actors involved in the film and while Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are both good really the actor that makes the film is Alicia Vikander. She accomplishes the very tough task of being an almost human robot. Her ballet training must have really come in handy while making the film because the role of an artificial intelligence involves plenty of very precise movements and yet that believability that she is close to human especially once she turns on Ava’s sexual side. She often has to convey Ava’s “feelings” with only her eyes. Vikander really had a great year being in two films that earned Oscar nominations (this and The Danish Girl). Domhnall Gleeson bests that accomplishment with four (this, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Star Wars” Episode VII – The Force Awakens) of his own.
Ava is really a great product of some rather talented and creative special effects technicians. She looks great. Human looking yet still robotic. The CGI mixture of Alicia Vikander’s face with the robotic body is flawless.
Though Alex Garland keeps things moving the film does have a rather reserved or muted feel to it. The pacing is very deliberate. The story is rather a simple one that attempts to tackle some fairly complex stuff. It is deep and thought-provoking stuff. Garland is an accomplished writer having penned the novel The Beach as well as the screenplays for films like Sunshine and 28 Days Later, but this is his strongest story to date. The dialogue is rather elevated in nature and yet not too wordy that it becomes a turn off. He also resists the urge to elaborate too much, go on and on with his scenes and allow the whole thing to become bloated in nature. There is precious little fat to this 1 hour and 48 minute film.
What I liked a lot if not most about the film is its ending. Few will see it going the way it does and while some will be unimpressed it really is the perfect ending. Quiet and frightening.
- “Through the Looking Glass: Creating Ex Machina” 5-Part Featurette
- 8 Behind-the-Scenes Vignettes
- SXSW Q&A with Cast and Crew
- Audio Commentary with Director Alex Garland and more; Andrew Whitehurst, Geoff Barrow, Mark Digby and Michelle Day
- Oscar Isaac Dance Scene (Easter Egg)