When the lights go down in the theater I generally want one of two things. I’d like to be entertained or intellectually stimulated and challenged. “Ex Machina” is one of those films that does both!
Writer/director Alex Garland pulls you into his world immediately in the first minutes of the film as Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is the winner of...well we don’t know what, but his colleagues are extremely jealous so it must be good. We soon learn that he’s won a week long stay with Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is a legend in the computer programming world. He invented Blue Book (think Google), the company Caleb works for, and lives on an estate so large that two hours of flying in a helicopter covers a portion of it.
Upon landing on the highly secured grounds, Caleb learns that Nathan has him there to perform a “Turing Test”. The test is for a human to converse with an artificial intelligence (AI) and reach a conclusion on whether it has human consciousness. Enter Ava (Alicia Vikander), Nathan’s AI machine with a pretty human face. Caleb participates in seven sessions with Ava, one per day he’s there. Yet, with each day that he’s there, Caleb must decipher who he can trust in the highly secretive world, Nathan or Ava.
Isaac continues to deliver as the tech guru. He blends arrogance into his prodigy character in just the right way where we like him enough to go for a drink after work but would never invite him over for dinner. Vikander’s performance is all in her face, literally, as the rest of the machine is parts. Thus, the fascination of every slight “micro-expression” (as she may call it) in what her face communicates is as intriguing for us as it is for Caleb. Gleeson portrays the pure passion and excitement of his character in such a way that we’re easily won over and happy for his journey.
With a stellar cast in place, the key is the script and directing. Fortunately, both are handled with precision by Garland. The script keeps you wondering what will happen next with subtext riddled throughout, while his controlled pace creates an uneasiness that sticks with you from the moment Caleb enters the compound. Garland uses the entire frame to tell his story. Characters in the foreground are strategically placed in juxtaposition with characters in the background to keep the audience drawing conclusions as to what is really going on.
“Ex Machina” is an intellectual movie that explores technology, morality, and even how we perceive beauty. I have a feeling if Ava’s face was scarred, deformed, or even just a machine the film wouldn’t work as well. So if you’re looking to be entertained and intellectually stimulated this weekend, “Ex Machina” will deliver!