“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The idea man seems to grapple with most, is the idea that we can simulate human life, making us gods.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a 26 year old coder at the world’s largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan(Oscar Isaac), the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl Ava (Alicia Vikander). The trick for Caleb, is to learn which portion of this experiment is true and real, and which side is he on.
The “Turing Test” is when you challenge a computer of some sort on their ability to exhibit intelligence comparable to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human being. This creates the basis for the story in Ex Machina. Caleb is a star struck programmer in a situation where he is brought before his hero and boss. Nathan is the CEO and founder of “Bluebook”, which is the worlds largest search engine. Unaware of the true nature of this visit Caleb is helicoptered in to a remote location, given the full tour of the state of the art facility, and coerced into signing an invasively thorough non disclosure agreement. From the moment Caleb arrives there is this daunting presence looming over. The pilot is only allowed to get so close to the grounds and only makes the trip on rare occasions. Caleb has to scale through landscape and navigate down river only to be scanned in. The reclusive walled off facility has all the makings of horror beginnings, and on it’s surface that may be all Ex Machina appears to be. This front is a farce, and this is one of the most layered films in quite some time.
True Sci-fi greatness is extremely difficult to achieve. Too many films explore a depth that they simply cannot sustain for an entire feature and either fall apart or cross into the realm of campiness. The greatest films of the genre are able to maintain an atmosphere and an ayre of depth spanning an entire run time. Ex Machina has already entered the pantheon of greatness. First time director Alex Garland develops an eerie menacing aura. The mood is veiled and unsettling form start to finish. Stylistically, this is one of the most beautiful films in recent memory. Truly a visually stunning experience, from the landscape, to the action and reaction of the characters, each movement and motion is delicately refined and made with purpose, it’s a work of art in motion.
Even more impressive is the way the film is able to create a feel of claustrophobia in such a boundless venue. The research facility serves as the perfect setting to create a confined atmosphere and an interactive motif. The environment is one of the best characters. With some of the most beautifully understated effects, there is nothing flashy about Ex Machina, but that is why it works so well. Ava is not gaudy, but her mechanical innards are still pronounced enough to clarify that she is not human, even when her actions contradict that fact.
Ex Machina is intoxicating. This script is absolutely brilliant, and Garland meticulously develops his vision, and it translates perfectly to the screen. This film takes on the daunting task of trying to create a fresh take on a familiar story. Artificial Intelligence is a concept that has been explored many times before, perhaps however, never in this particularly distinguishing fashion. What Garland accomplishes is astounding. He does so well to mask his characters motivations, leaving a sense of tension that keeps you hanging on every frame and every word spoken . It is a slow climb to an incredible climax that, as the film builds, becomes increasingly difficult to predict. Garland deliberately throws the audience for a loop every so often, keeping them on their toes. The characters are all opaque but never oblique.
There was some concern that the third act would derail an otherwise brilliant movie. In his previous scripts, Garland has struggled to close his films with as much grace as he has built them with. There are signs that the narrative is going to fall into a dead end, but assuredly those concerns were alleviated in stunning fashion as his storytelling is under complete control and remains satisfying all the way to the end. This appears to be Garlands best writing to date, but he also suggests that he has some incredible talents behind the camera as well. The story, the cinematography, and the pacing are flawless.
Ex Machina was a masterpiece before the cast had spoken a single syllable of dialogue in front of the lense. That being said it has to be noted that this group was phenomenal. Oscar Isaac is an absolute force. Playing the reclusive and brilliant Nathan, Isaac brings to life a character that is incredibly difficult to read. There is always something off, but he still has this amiable quality that a lesser actor would not have been able to achieve. Isaac is bolstered by his counterpart in Domhnall Gleeson. Portraying Caleb, Gleeson has a near childlike exhilaration while still carrying an apparent affliction. The ability to generate and produce genuine chemistry was key, due to the confined nature. These two needed to work together and they do so in a remarkable manner. Gleeson’s character development and gradual descent is subtle and unearthly.
Not to be upstaged by two of the most talented young actors working today, is a third, equally talented young actress. It is invariably difficult to upstage, or even keep pace with an actor of Oscar Isaac’s quality, yet Alicia Vikander steals every moment of screentime in which she appears. She brings an essence that brought this film to life. Her adaptation of Ava is a revelation. Easily the best performance by an actress in any film this year so far, Vikander had the arduous task of making her character appeal her humanity to the audience allowing us to believe the events unfolding before us. If Vikander doesn’t pass the viewership “Turing Test” then ultimately Ex Machina fails as a film. With an innate ability to make herself strangely human, while by appearances, is anything but, was simply breathtaking.
The film is essentially, in it’s purest form, a reinvention of the classic Frankenstein story. Perhaps even an improvement upon its most unadulterated subject material. This is a story of a brilliant man’s hubris, even resulting in the character of Nathan ostensibly referring to himself as a god. Ex Machina is so much more than it’s surface. It’s surreal look into the future, it’s a tension filled thriller, it’s a despondent love story, and it’s psychological and philosophical examination of the human subconscious in all it’s maddening forms. It is one of the most thought provoking sci-fi films since Moon, with some of the best performances we will likely get this year. Ex Machina is all about the terrifying impossibility of knowing a person’s true motivation, and a cautionary tale of the exploitation that can occur between the sexes.
4.8/5 Epic Bro!!