Ex Machina is from first time director Alex Garland which follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) as he wins a contest to visit an exotic billionaire named Nathan (Oscar Isaac). What’s the prize of this contest? The prize is to perform a Turing Test on an apparent Artificial Intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander). A Turing Test is a test of a machine’s ability to act and behave unlike that of a human. So as the story continues we get lost in this world of intrigue and suspense and wonder which grips you for the full 108 minute run time.
First off what has to be commended is the work of Alex Garland. If you have heard of his name that’s probably because you’ve seen movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine or 2012’s Dredd, all of which he wrote. But this time not only did he write it, he directed it. If you had no idea this was his first time you wouldn’t be stupid to think this guy was on his fifth film. The way he balances all the different departments in this movie and never making you feel lost is a true feet.
What a directors most important job is, however, is to get the best performances out of your actors. That is helped by getting such young quality actors who all knock it out of the park. Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) who plays Caleb, a programmer who works at a fictitious Google-like company (Blue Book), plays his part with subtlety and a honesty which really allows the audience to gravitate towards him. He wins a competition to fly to a secluded location to meet the creator of the company Blue Book played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year). Isaac is the stand-out in this film; he brings humour, complexity and is so enjoyable to watch on-screen. At first it seems like a simple ‘week with the boss’ getaway but Caleb soon realizes he has been brought to test an Artificial Intelligence.
The Artificial Intelligence in question is named Ava played by Alicia Vikander (Seventh Son, Anna Karenina). Get ready to see Vikander in more movies going forward, because she’s going to be getting a lot more work after this. The way Vikander never overplays the fact she is a robot but also not quite human really draws you in. Add on top of that how stunning the visual effects are on this movie with such a small budget. Caleb begins to ask Ava questions in order to see if she truly is an AI. With that we get the general cliché’s that are usually in movies regarding Artificial intelligence. Putting a spotlight on humanity and what is it to be human. But it isn’t just the conversations between Ava and Caleb which are enticing; it’s the after effect when Caleb then discusses his thoughts with Nathan. Nathan’s character brings up incredibly interesting points which make you just want to sit there and listen and want to learn more. But you also know Nathan is all quite there. He drinks himself to sleep, exercises in the mornings and has this uncertainty of a man who’s been living alone for a long time.
Also, just a quick note on how beautiful the set and the setting are in this film. I don’t think I have seen a better house in my life!
So what are the flaws with the film? Well I can’t talk too much about it without spoiling it. Everyone’s reactions and thoughts towards the ending of the film will be different. So much so, I didn’t know which character I wanted to end on a happy note or a devastating finish. I think that’s one of the interesting things about it though. After seeing it with a friend we fully discussed it for the next hour and a half. We discussed what all the characters true motivations were and what is Artificial Intelligence, and therefore what is it to really be human?
My final thought is that this is not a movie for everyone. Some of the concepts may be too much for people who just want to go to the cinema to escape. On the other hand, if you want to see a smartly written piece of cinema with great performances and visuals alike, you would find it hard to find something as good as this.
Review by Daniel Clements