This was a surprising gem that I heard a lot about. While I didn’t get to see it in theaters, I did buy the blu-ray and boy was I blown away after watching it. The movie has a simple premise, but as it goes on, it gets more disturbing and complex, yet it’s portrayed as so serene that it becomes kinda heartbreaking. It’s even written and directed by Alex Garland, in his directorial debut no less, the guy who wrote the awesome film Dredd (which DESERVES a sequel or some kind of followup) and several other noteworthy films, so there’s bound to be a lot of depth.
You know that one weird, out-of-nowhere line from The Other Guys that Steve Coogan said in which he asked “Computers! What if they were in charge?” For some reason this movie made me think about that line. The concept of robots and artificial intelligence has been explored before in several films, not to mention it’s probably been talked about in several textbooks and articles (I know that one philosophy course I took had a section about artificial intelligence one time). This movie does tread on familiar territory sometimes, yet at the same time it does make some interesting twists and turns that you can’t help but keep watching as it goes on.
Ex Machina is about a programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) winning a contest in which he spends a week at the home of his company’s CEO, Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac). There, he is asked to test the abilities of the android Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) to see if she is capable of intelligence. What transpires after that is a dark, twisted, and surreal journey of discovery and madness. The way that it panned out kinda reminded me of the video game Portal, how the protagonist is put into a seemingly simple experimental situation with advanced tech and a supposedly innocent AI, but as it goes on the situation, and even the AI be it intentionally or unintentionally, becomes more sinister.
While the film was made on a relatively low budget in comparison to bigger mainstream films, it does look fantastic. The cinematography, visuals (which I’ll get to later), the enclosed location (for most of the movie anyway), the music, and the lighting, all enrich the techno-thriller feel and atmosphere. Adding that to the tone of the film, it felt like a sci-fi version of David Fincher movies.
The cast is fantastic in their roles. Domnhall Gleeson is sweet as the protagonist Caleb, Oscar Isaac is funny and odd while also kinda sinister as Nathan, and Alicia Vikander is phenomenal as Ava. I know she already won a bunch of awards, including the Oscar, for her role in The Danish Girl, but how cool would it have been if she got nominated for the Oscar for this role too? She’s already gotten a lot of award nominations for playing Ava, and for good reason. Her character starts out as innocent, but like GLADOS in Portal, as time goes by, her motivations and characterization shift from one end to the next, going from having childlike innocence and wonder to something more fierce and even scary while still being “nice” in some way, making her unpredictable and unsure of whether she is friend or foe, or just becoming a “frenemy” to the human characters in general, at least the ones she interacts with here. In the end, all she wants is to have freedom, to live life as a person, not as someone’s plaything, and she’ll do whatever she can to get it, even if it means killing or messing with someone’s head psychologically. Also, the special effects on her were fantastic. I really did believe that she looked like a real robot, almost forgot that it was special effects, because they were that good. No wonder the movie won the Oscar for Visual Effects.
Ex Machina is definitely one of the most thought-provoking films of 2015, and probably one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory. What seems like a simple premise becomes a dark and disturbing exploration of the idea of the existence of AI and how it could function in the real world, depending on how it’s created and treated, and how it would react to that in the kind of world it’s brought into. Let’s just hope that if robots and AI ever become a reality, like being everywhere, they don’t get ideas from watching this movie lol.