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.
Ex Machina is the best, most intelligent, imaginative and inventive Frankenstein telling to date, a Modern Prometheus for the new millennia. While not an adaptation of the Mary Shelley literary classic, the comparisons are extraordinary and bloody brilliant. Oscar Isaac is magnetic as Nathan, a brilliant inventor who has created a lifelike, beautiful robotic A.I. creature named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is brought into Frankenstein’s Castle to evaluate the monster. He is soon seduced by the creator, the creature and the implication of the invention. The film is poetic and majestic with exquisite cinematography and a reserved, artistic, thoughtful approach. The conflict is deep and meaningful far beyond the complex story and the minimal characters. When Caleb responds to Ava questions about Nathan’s intentions with “It’s not up to me…,” she replies “Why is it up to anyone?” There are no devils nor angels in Nathan’s secluded refuge, there is no god, but there is fury. Writer/Director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a healthy portion of Kubrick, a taste of Hitchcock and a hint of Malick as Nathan and Caleb learn that playing god comes with a cost.
Caleb, a young programmer at the Blue Book, wins the prized lottery, the golden ticket, a much desired trip to visit the genius tech CEO who remains a recluse housed in a mansion tucked miles into the mountains. Nathan, the CEO, welcomes Caleb into his home revealing that his key allows him into areas of the home where he is allowed and prevents him from entering areas where he is not. The two clumsily try to become acquainted until Nathan reveals Caleb’s true purpose. Nathan has created a near-human AI inhabiting the female robotic frame called Ava. Caleb is to perform a “Turing Test” to determine if the AI passes for “human.” Over the next week, secrets are revealed, dangers mount and an escape is planned.
Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson play the film’s leads in the most uncomfortable and awkward “bromance” in film history while Alicia Vikander is alluring as the android Ava. The film rests squarely on their shoulders – with more than a little help from attractive Sonoya Mizuno as Kyoko, the mysterious and silent housekeeper – as the film is primarily told through intense and inquisitive conversations. Every word is paramount. Every question is meant to dig far deeper than the surface. Every look, gaze and glare mask their true intentions. Everything is exactly as seen but nothing like presented. This garden of Eden is full of lies, misdirection and manipulation. Isaac is magnificent as the smug, arrogant and charismatic Nathan with earned delusions of grandeur and a mean god-complex. He also displays a talent for getting a groove on in the film’s most memorable scene. Gleeson is charming, innocent and somewhat sad as Caleb struggling with the meaning behind the AI, his host and his own past. His whole world come into question, even his own existence. Vikander is striking as Ava striking a complex and deceptive mix of robotic and human qualities that elicit sympathy and admiration – a more appealing monster there has never been.
Ex Machina is fascinating as it wears its science fiction circuitry in palatable, credible ways. While Ava is visually an android, she is never stiff, her gears visible through a clear coating of pliable plastics and sheathing, her mechanical origins are masked by a beautiful facial visage giving her a remarkable human appearance. She is simply captivating. Nathan later shares with Caleb what goes into making an “Ava” handing him the “brain.” A casing filled with a fluid memory system explaining it allows to harden for memories but remains malleable for thought. It appears more like cinema holding imagination in its hand. The science is complex in its roots painting in broad simple strokes for cinema sake, enough to sell and convey the idea and enough to elicit the ingenuity of its core concepts. Nathan builds his creature to be a thing of beauty in the form of man with the mind of man.
Alex Garland, the mind behind 28 Days Later and Dredd, displays an incredible talent with Ex Machina – a true artist. He paints his film with ethereal cinematography and delicate, purposeful movement. He has an eye for composition and focus. His film is reserved and graceful. Every conversation is weaved with intrigue and scope. Everything in his frames supports his story from bright white walls to an all encompassing Jackson Pollack painting. It all has meaning. Where characters are positioned, the colors, the clothing, the locations. He shifts mood and tone with a word or a shift in focus. He casts doubt and suspicion with what he decide not to show or tell. It is rare that every frame is so calculated and orchestrated. It is a magnificent achievement.
Ex Machina is a rich, intelligent and brilliant film. The conflicts are complex and spark imagination. The cinematography is lush and beautiful. The cast is incredible. Alex Garland’s script is tight with an unusual economy of voice and exposition. The emotions are grand, worldly with gravity and weight. Oscar Isaac is spectacular worthy of praise and recognition. Alicia Vikander is a true find, elegant, exceptional bringing Nathan’s monster to frightening but fascinating life much like the beauty of a great white shark swimming in the wild. For horror fans, the comparisons to Frankenstein are rewarding with impact and meaning. The modern Prometheus would not build a man from dead bodies and revive it with lightning, he would build an android with a fantastic encased liquid mind brought to life with circuitry and computers. He would successfully make a thing of beauty but it would be no less dangerous.
4.5 out of 5