D/W: Alex Garland. DP: Rob Hardy. Starring: Domhnall Gleeson/Oscar Isaac/Alicia Vikander/Sonoya Mizuno.
Robots and artificial intelligence have long obsessed humans, filmmakers not excluded. Ex Machina will join a large canon of cinema tackling the questions of artificial intelligence and the boundaries of consciousness. This exploration is the thru line of this new film that finds a young computer coder plopped into his prodigy boss’s compound for a week to act as a test for his newest creation.
Writer and director Alex Garland ventures into his first directing experience with Ex Machina. A novelist as well as a screenwriter, Garland is mostly known for the scripts of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go. Here he lends a subtle hand to a story that could have easily gone into sci-fi cheeseland. The Norwegian landscape and beyond are breathtaking and work in gorgeous relief to the questioning with the walls of the secluded house. Garland’s script balances humor with philosophy while his filmmaking creates a sense of space without losing the close character connections.
For a film that relies on just four actors to carry the story, Ex Machina’s cast is exemplary. Domhnall Gleeson’s Cable uses his sweet lankiness here to disguise the more questioning and intense side of his character. The audience discovers as Caleb discovers while narrative subterfuge begins from another character, almost invisibly. Gleeson physicality is contrasted well with Nathan (Oscar Isaac) whose acts of dominance cannot hide a brilliant yet boundary bushing mind. Isaac’s eccentricities never become jarring, but rather keep changing the stakes of the film from start to finish. Also, there now exists a fabulous dancing scene featuring Isaac.
Alicia Vikander, as Isaac’s creation Ava, is not only beautifully constructed with her hands, feet and face on display against the machinery, but never misses a beat. With an eery beauty and glimmer of innocence, Vikander use of gesture is so subtle it’s easy to miss. Having worked with Gleeson in Anna Karenina, the pair play well off each other without any level of triteness. And although Sonoya Mizuno’s Kyoto lacks a voice, her physicality is a fascinating tracking device for the plot and is not forgotten amidst the turmoil of Ex Machina.
Overall the film is a successful venture for Garland, even its cheaper fixtures feel earned within a strongly compelling take on a well oiled subject. Discussions of its ending will surely drive a long conversation. But, three cheers for original work that holds its ground amongst fierce competition and history.