Ex Machina

by | May 5, 2015 | 0 comments

An Incredibly Acted Film Whose Ideas May Be Too Advanced for Most Audiences

Every once in a while we get a film that is ahead of its time, to the point that the audience and most critics disregard it as a foolish fantasy. The most recent example I can think of is 1998’s The Truman Show, which showcased a man’s life on TV for everyone to see. Most people thought this was absurd, but today Reality TV is one of the biggest TV genres in the world, a genre that consists of watching people’s lives. Ex Machina is another of these ahead-of-their-time movies, in that it talks to us about our possible future with artificial intelligence. Yes, I can already hear you complaining that there have been hundreds of films before dealing with A.I. (including the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron), but none of those A.I. films actually took a realistic approach, Ex Machina does.

Ex Machina begins with a coder named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins an online competition to go and meet his company’s founder, Nathan (a spectacular Oscar Isaac). Caleb works at a company named Blue Book, a search engine à la Google, which supposedly is used by 90% of Internet users. Caleb arrives at Nathan’s estate via helicopter and finds out Nathan lives in a Bond villain-like fortress, which we later find out is a research facility. Nathan wants Caleb’s help on his newest invention: a robot with artificial intelligence. Caleb is to perform the Turing Test (a test to determine if a computer can think like a human brain) on Nathan’s A.I. robot named Ava (played by a great Alicia Vikander). As Caleb begins testing Ava some doubts begin to come into the audience’s mind: are Caleb and Ava forming a bond? Is Nathan to be trusted? And the film relishes on your skepticism and confusion.

Ex Machina was written and directed by first-timer Alex Garland, and he does a spectacular job. He not only keeps us guessing throughout the film, but he manages to pull off a very unexpected ending that leaves the audience in shock when the credits roll. What I also loved from Garland was the incredible intellect and culture that he trusted his audience to have; he begins quoting Oppenheimer, makes references to Einstein and Greek plays, and analyzes a Pollock painting. This not only adds extravagance to the script, but it also makes the audience feel as though they aren’t being treated like ignorant people, who need to have everything simplified. The characters are also crafted in a very unique way, which, added to the great casting, made the film all the more enjoyable.

One of the biggest behind the scenes successes of this film is the production design. The set is incredibly attractive, it keeps it small so that the budget doesn’t skyrocket, but it also adds a layer of extravagance and an even red, green, and blue color palate. Nathan’s “smart home” is futuristic, but is also kept believable and realistic. The set also surprisingly help transpire the gloomy ambient of the film.

But I think that the person who outshines in this film is Oscar Isaac. Alicia Vikander is given the flashier role of the robot, and don’t get me wrong she does a great job, but Isaac was given a more supporting role which could have been shunned to the side, but instead Isaac invests himself passionately into Nathan’s character making him one of the most likeable characters on screen. Vikander, meanwhile, was finally given her big break. After years of playing small supporting roles in films such as Anna Karenina and Seventh Son, she was given a challenging and shinier role in this film. It’s hard to play a robot, for those roles you either voice over a CGI figure or you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger. Vikander was able to keep the audience in doubt and awe as see she is clearly seen as a robot, but slivers of humanity escape flicker in her once in a while, tempting both Caleb and the audience to grow skeptical. Her movements as a robot are also expertly calculated, having taken ballet classes when she was younger, Vikander was able to achieve mechanical movements with ease and grace. And we finally arrive at Gleeson, who has a different case from those of Isaac and Vikander.

Domhnall Gleeson (son of the Irish actor Brendan Gleeson) has taken a steady road when choosing movies and it has led him to become a stable actor in such a shaky business. He first came onto our screens as Bill Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and then went on a string of more independent films with Richard Curtis’ About Time and starred opposite Michael Fassbender in Frank; he even shared some screen time with Keira Knightley and Jude Law in Anna Karenina. More recently he’s been moving to more big budgeted films, which even so still retain quality and independent fervor, this was the case with Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. With Ex Machina Gleeson has been able to find a midway point between big budget films and indies, and he’s found that it’s here where he feels most comfortable; you notice this in the film and it allows Gleeson to take on the challenging role of Caleb with more boldness than anticipated.

This liberating Gleeson along with the great Vikander and Isaac make the story flow incredibly smoothly, which along with the witty and spectacular script make this one of the best films of the year (so far). It leads me to ask myself if it could pull off a Grand Budapest Hotel (last year the Wes Anderson movie premiered in spring but made it as a big player to the Academy Awards). But then again, this may be a little too advanced for today’s Academy to digest.

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 90% 90%

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What is your favorite film about AI? Let me know in the comments section.

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