Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac. USA. 1h 48m
After the brilliant British sci-fi film The Machine (2013) which I waited a while to see, as it was often compared to being the next step from Blade Runner (1982), and while the film was good it just didn’t have that same cyberpunk feel to me, so I did wait a little while to catch up with Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s provocative sci-fi flick.
Starting with the young waif IT tech, Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson who receives an email telling him that he’s won first prize it looks like spam but the massive office reaction seems to indicate it’s more precious than a Willy Wonka golden Ticket. Caleb is soon whisked off to an isolated Eden like estate, owned by the CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in the middle of an alluring Norwegian landscape giving an anonymous backdrop to a fiercely techno home. After a curt introduction from the health freak Nathan, the fan boy Caleb is set the task of performing a “tuning test” out on a new AI, called Ava, and is taken on a tour around the lavish dynamic home/lab of this rich recluse genius.
The “tuning test” which initially start this is gender identifying party game just performed on Ava , and amazingly advanced robot with a humanized and cyber skeletal features. The two often take centre stage, focused in on each other and set up elaborate meetings. Nathan begins to show his true darker colours as we discover that Ava is not the prototype that she was first thought to be.
The idea maybe an old one, there are several books and movies that have played with this concept of artificial intelligence and what may happen if a machine becomes aware of its own mortality; from Isaac Asimov’s I Robot right through to the game changing Blade Runner (1982) and even the modern brit flick The Machine (2013). The key to the success of this film is how the characters interact and how everybody it’s harbouring a secret. Nathan’s drunken and slightly abusive character is exceptionally deep and slighting confusing, Isaac is an amazing actor and well chosen for this role. We are also led to believe in passive and open hearted Caleb, is is our hipster hero and the total opposite of the brutish CEO, his wide-eyes are constantly focused in on the AI, but he is clearly a geek out of his own death but we assume that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his tasks or be fooled by a sweet looking synthetic face, he is curious but very detailed and methodological in his approach but after a few sessions questioning Ava everyone starts showing their own true colours.
Ava’s quite obviously the star of the show and the role was truly brought to life by Alicia Vikander’s bold performance and as a perfect combination between the cold determination of Yul Brynner from Westworld (1973) and the cool seductiveness of Pris from Blade Runner (1982), totally perfect and ever so slightly unnatural she performs with a series of unfamiliar movements, you can see that the powerful machine is learning how to refine a series of organic reflexes as a learnt series of movements, a flick of the wrist a tilt of the head a flicker of a smile when needed all learnt and without emotion
The beautiful surroundings offset by the cost of phobic cynical test rooms underground in the maze of a big bearded CEO but has all of the lighting and mood of ambience of a space station. As the trust breaks down and secrets are slowly uncovered everybody becomes slightly more tightly wound up and the film clips into a cyber Noir with one of the most dangerous mechanical femme fatales ever. It’s gripping and visually sound, although the story does start to lag and wain near the end but the final twist is worth hanging in for. Beautiful and profound and that legendary dance scene….
R – The Machine (2013), The Signal (2014)
L – Android Movies, Cyborg Flicks,
A – The Robotic Future
5s – Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Vs – The Machine Vs Ex Machina