Ex Machina (2015)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival. Ex Machina opens in limited release this Friday, April 10th.
Gauging the strength of a film involves many factors that depend greatly on the type of film you’re watching. Does it entertain? Is it thought provoking? Does it engage you? Do you have a difficult time suspending disbelief? Is it timeless? The list goes on, and for sci-fi films, cinema lovers tend to be tougher on these films. Other ideas that factor in the enjoyment of a sci-fi film: Is it Original? Is it scientifically accurate? (Queue the 100 things wrong with Interstellar think pieces) Alex Garland (Writer/Director) takes these factors and orchestrates them to craft one of the finest sci-fi films of our time.
Ex Machina takes place in a futuristic, unknown time period. Some of the best sci-fi films are non-specific about the time period, a calculated choice by Garland.
Ex Machina takes place in a futuristic, unknown time period. Some of the best sci-fi films are non-specific about the time period, a calculated choice by Garland. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a prize to visit Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) estate. Nathan is the CEO of Blue Book (This world’s top internet search engine). His estate is hours away from civilization and can only be reached by helicopter. Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that he is there to test the artificial intelligence of Nathan’s latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Ava is a female robot, designed with complex artificial intelligence. Caleb’s task is to determine whether Ava can pass The Turing Test, a machine’s ability to display behavior equivalent to a human. The test sounds absurd because Caleb goes into the test knowing that Ava is a robot. Since we see the film from Caleb’s perspective, we’re also skeptical of the entire situation.
Ex Machina works so well because it’s more than just a sci-fi film. It fits into multiple categories: thriller, mystery, comedy, talkie narrative, romance and other blends. With the mystery come equal parts of wonder. The world building that takes place is fascinating to watch unfold. The audience is given just enough to ease into the world, making everything at Nathan’s estate that much more believable. The film is nothing without three outstanding performances from Isaac, Gleeson and Vikander.
Gleeson finds a wonderful balance between playing an introverted genius while learning to become more assertive. Nathan is a casual man who seems more interested in leisure activities like boozing and dancing. Nathan delivers a ton of laughs that helps put Caleb (and the audience) at ease. Caleb is only the second human that Ava meets and her curiosity is matched by her artificial intelligence. She moves and talks like a robot, but she appears to have feelings and there’s a hint of desperation in her voice and the words she chooses. Ava plants seeds some seeds that sends Caleb on a wild ride of confusion. In a good way, Garland makes it difficult for the audience to choose one single character to root for. Caleb’s boyish charm and high intellect makes for an obvious choice, but Nathan’s charisma and downright hysterical personality makes him a lovable mad genius. Throw Ava in the mix and you will ask yourself, “Is she real??” By design, Ava is easy on the eyes. It’s amazing how half of a face can look so beautiful.
The style, execution and performances sets Ex Machina apart from other similar sci-fi films.
Some will argue, “This is nothing new.” The style, execution and performances sets Ex Machina apart from other similar sci-fi films. Garland constructs a riveting narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There will be moments when you feel curiosity like Ava, wonder like Caleb and you’ll want to party like Nathan.
To say more about the film may wander in to spoiler territory. If you’re into sci-fi films this will be your jam. Garland’s writing credits alone are enough to get a cinephile excited: The Beach (Novel), 28 Days Later (Writer), Sunshine (Writer), Dredd (Writer) and he makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. During the Q&A session, Garland was humble when asked about making his directorial debut. Garland talked about how he isn’t the director, that everyone on set is the director. He’s listed as the screenwriter for the Halo (Xbox Video Game) film adaptation. Film adaptations rarely perform well but it’s hard to imagine a film failing with Garland attached to the project. Garland’s career continues to thrive and his directorial debut is a homerun.
Ex Machina works so well because it’s more than just a sci-fi film. It fits into multiple categories: thriller, mystery, comedy, talkie narrative, romance and other blends. With the mystery come equal parts of wonder.