Movie Review: Ex Machina


A young coder is selected to take part in an experiment involving artificial intelligence.


Alex Garland, 2015

Lucky young coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partake in an experiment. He is flown out to the distant, high-tech home of his company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Isolated from the world, techbro Nathan is eager to connect with Caleb. He gets Caleb to sign an extensive non-disclosure agreement before showing Caleb his latest invention: a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Nathan wants Caleb to be the human element in the Turing test to prove that Ava has true artificial intelligence. Ava and Caleb have a series of conversations. A rift grows between Nathan and Caleb as the mysteries of the house start to come to light.


Given the recent innovations in robotics, there’s a rich vein of science fiction to be mined in the area of artificial intelligence. It’s not entirely new to the genre, but we’re inching ever closer to it becoming a reality. All of that makes Ex Machina a really interesting film conceptually. It explores its central concept largely through conversations: between Caleb and Ava, and between Nathan and Caleb. There are sharp edges and hidden traps in all these conversations, and some of them play out really well, while others seem a little forced. This is more the fault of the writing than the acting. There’s a heavy layer of pretension sitting over this movie, but the performances are solid. This is a fine trio of actors. Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac do the heavy lifting, portraying complex, edgy characters. Isaac portrays a creepy, intense friendliness really well, and creates a believable character, while Vikander does her best to make Ava feel real. Domhnall Gleason’s Caleb is more gentle, more unsure and earnest. All three of them are very good. Sonoya Mizuno is given vary little to do as a final piece of the puzzle, more a plot device than anything else.

The movie’s main appeal lies in its atmosphere. Ex Machina is an extraordinarily pretty movie. It’s a claustrophobic affair that, instead of highlighting the ways tech brings people together, uses it to isolate people. The house (apparently a real hotel) is almost an extra character in the film. Its subterranean rooms, narrow hallways and fingerprint-locked doors create an aura of tension, which is highlighted by gorgeous cinematography and clever sound design. There’s also a very uncomfortable level of objectification in this movie that never quite sat right with me. It’s part of the plot, and I can understand what they were aiming for, but it never quite sat right with me. The fact that the film consisted almost entirely of four characters makes the gender politics of the film very unsettling. The atmosphere also tries to make up for a thin story that feels like a short film that’s been extended. There’s a long period of time during which the plot feels stalled to give Oscar Isaac more scenery to chew. Overall, Ex Machina is a clever film, but not a complete one.

Ex Machina on IMDb


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