Ex-Machina (2015) Directed by Alex Garland. With Domnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander.
Written and directed by Alex Garland – previously best-known as a novelist and scriptwriter – Ex-Machina is a beautifully shot science-fiction parable about a gifted computer programmer (Gleeson), who is presented with a unique opportunity to participate in an experiment in artificial intelligence by assessing the level of humanity present in Ava (Vikander), an A.I created in the likeness of a beautiful young woman.
Aesthetically, the film looks absolutely stunning. The majority of the story takes place in the chic confines of a “research facility”, which is home to a scary-looking Oscar Issaac, playing Nathan – the equal amounts eccentric and intense creator of Ava. The facility alone is a thing of beauty, welcoming and incorporating the surrounding nature while maintaining stylishly fashionable minimalism. Then, there are parts of the facility that begin to feel like a soulless spaceship. A prison, even. It is here where this claustrophobic, thought-provoking psychological thriller begins to unfold.
As Ava, Alicia Vikander is a wonder to behold. I have said this before, but the best compliment you can pay any CGI animator is to say that you forgot you were watching an effect. Ava is a true fascination to both us and Domnall Gleeson’s starstruck character. We live the film through his eyes, making minute-by-minute decisions about what is afoot. Oscar Isaac adds to the growing sense of unease with a performance that switches between three or four gears – none of them particularly endearing (actually, he can dance).
This is the kind of low-key science-fiction that lasts. It doesn’t shout for attention, preferring to keep character and ideas front and centre. Between the striking compositions of Rob Hardy’s gorgeous photography and the subtly effective electronic soundtrack – there is a juicy juxtaposition of danger and beauty.
The film ponders many things – making observations and asking questions about “What defines true consciousness?”. In creating free-thinking consciousness – “Are human beings playing God!?”. Considering the advances of technology, these questions are becoming increasingly pertinent to our lives. Whether we like it or not, our everyday relationship with technology is rapidly advancing. Ex-Machina seems to suggest that we have a deep, hidden desire to replace ourselves. Underneath the framework of the central plot, Garland’s design is to make us question it and ourselves. What do we want from all of this? Where is it going? How does it better us? Can we trust it?
Deep and meaningful discussions aside, Garland manages to capture that chilling sense of creepiness present in most of the best science-fiction films. Think of Kubrick’s 2001, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or even Duncan Jones’ Moon; all stellar sci-fi and all very unsettling. Add Ex-Machina to that hallowed list. 5/5