“When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?”
-Dr. Alfred Lanning (I, Robot)
Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is an especially popular movie subject in the current cinema zeitgeist. Chappie was released earlier this year, Her was released a few years ago, and Avengers: Age of Ultron is set to destroy the box office next week. Alex Garland’s latest is no different. Despite a title that would imply some other worldly story, Ex Machina is a grounded delight.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, an employee of Bluebook, who recently won a contest to meet the company’s founder and CEO Nathan. Nathan lives by himself in a remote fortified structure toiling away at creating the perfect A.I. Caleb’s prize, unbeknownst to him, is to test the creation to make sure it is true and complete A.I. What Caleb finds in Nathan’s machine is the troubling truth that comes with the possibility of singularity.
Alicia Vikander is Ava, the creation of Nathan’s hard work and craftsmanship. Vikander is tremendous as an inquisitive robot that has a strange hint of sexuality. Most of the film, Vikander’s face is the only non-robotic part of her body we see, and she does a fabulous job of conveying her sexiness through facial expressions and vulnerability. The rest of the small cast is also amazing. Oscar Isaac’s flawed Nathan is a perfect example of the pain felt by those who have a great passion. Isaac is a malleable actor who will never starve for work. Gleeson, who played an A.I. in a great episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror, is the perfect actor to play Caleb. Gleeson is vulnerable, smart, and just handsome enough for the audience to relate with.
Alex Garland’s script is great with the exception of a silly security system that uses key cards. The few plot holes are easily ignored because the direction and acting are so good. Garland has crafted a small budget sci-fi film that feels huge. The CGI is expertly done and can barely be noticed. The cinematography is beautiful, and so is the score. Garland has created a cinematic work of which to be proud.
Overall, Ex Machina is an outstanding sci-fi film. Even though the A.I. trope may become worn, this film will stand out as one of the sub-genre’s best. Alex Garland’s expert directing and writing sets it far above Chappie. His overt statements on sexuality and misogyny make Ex Machina a deeper and more thoughtful film. Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander are phenomenal. Ex Machina is far and away my favorite film of the first quarter.