Director: Alex Garland Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhall Gleeson & Oscar Isaac Synopsis: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. Rating: 15 Run time: 108 minutes Release date: 21 January 2015
Directed by Alex Garland, Ex Machina is a very powerful portrayal of man and machine that plays upon the curiosities and fears that modern society faces with today’s, and tomorrow’s technology. Here, first time director Garland has crafted a film in a similar mould to that of one of the films main characters Ava. Ex Machina is sleek, beautiful to look at and has a dark undercurrent that belies the films first impressions.
Domhall Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer programmer who “wins” the chance to spend a week in the company of his reclusive boss at his multi-million dollar compound in the middle of nowhere. His boss, Nathan, played with a bullish intensity by Oscar Isaac has invited Caleb to take part in a “Turing Test” and forces him to sign the mother of all Non Disclosure Agreements in the process.
Despite Nathans attempts to persuade Caleb that he wants them to become friends during their week together, their relationship is fraught with tension from the beginning. Caleb displays all the social insecurity of someone forced to spend a week in the company of their boss, while Nathans upfront nature only further enhances the anxiety Caleb, and the audience, feels here.
During his time at Nathans facility, Caleb is tasked with testing Nathans latest experiment, Ava. Ava, played brilliantly by Alicia Vikander, is a new form of artificial intelligence that will test Caleb’s resolve to the full. It is here that the lines begin to blur for the films three main characters and the audience as well. Ava shows some very human characteristics, while Caleb believes he is being tricked and Nathan is furious that Caleb is letting his emotions and sexual appetite get in the way of their research.
If that all sounds very serious, then that’s because it is. Ex Machina is crafted in a Kubrick/Nolan style with a strong focus on intelligence and attention to detail. That’s not to say that Ex Machina isn’t fun, in fact at times it’s a blast, with Oscar Isaac breaking his intense performance at one point to burst into a fantastic dance routine, and also manages to crack a joke at the expense of Dan Aykroyd and Ghostbusters.
Gleeson and Vikander both begin the film with the audiences’ sympathy, but it is worth debating whether people will feel the same way at the films end. Ex Machina can easily promote discussion on the use of technology and how far we need to and should go in the pursuit of creating artificial intelligence. But, as a film, it’s also really bloody good and despite a somewhat slow pace, it remains a fantastic piece of science fiction with three solid central performances and a first time director showing remarkable potential.
In summary: Serving as both quality entertainment and intelligent science fiction, Ex Machina is an excellent directorial debut from Alex Garland, with excellent performances from its three lead actors.