I used a bunch of adjectives in my headline didn’t I? There was so much of all of that going on in Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina. Garland, who is no newcomer to showbiz, has always been accredited to solid screenwriting, most notably in the Danny Boyle films, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. His entrance behind the camera was excellent. A science fiction movie by heart, Garland blends multiple genres to create a memorable and thought provoking film.
This movie does not take its time in building up character development. Much of that occurs through the moments of the film. In the opening scene, we see a coder named Caleb (Domhall Gleeson) win contest where he gets to spend a week in a secluded area with his boss, the CEO of the largest search engine website in the world.
There is a large cloud of mystique in meeting Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the tycoon of Blue Book (Think Google, fictionally). Caleb spends hours on a helicopter overlooking big mountains and inescapable, lush bodies of nature. When he finally arrives and meets Nathan, he turns out to be booze heavy, bro genius with a god complex ego. This type of role is perfect for the chameleonic Isaac.
So the visit to Nathan’s secluded HQ really isn’t a visit. For all the powerful men in cinema, their true intent is always layered under fabrications. Caleb’s trip is not actually a trip. Nathan found him and hand picked to conduct research on his new Artificial Intelligence and that is where we meet Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb must find out in his sessions if Ava’s conscience actually works and if her emotions are actually natural. Through Ava, we see the power that Nathan possesses and the brilliance he has towards his craft. In the sessions we learn that Nathan has many secrets, many which are shockingly disturbing.
The dialogue between Caleb, Nathan and Eva operates as man versus god, versus machine. Themes of humanity, sexual objectivity and power, all find themselves relevant between Nathan and Caleb’s talks over beer. Ava serves as that external foil outside of humanity and absolutely breaks you in the finale of the film. By the end, you’ll be thinking about god, man and machine, and the power of being more than one of those physical entities at once.
The score, composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (of Portishead fame), consistently provides the thrills. It’s a constant thumping or a nearly muted tone during a scenes dialogue, which does so much more than you would expect. Kudos to Domhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac for providing solid performances but the real star was Alicia Vikander. Her performance was compelling, intimate and nuanced until the shocking end. She will be a household figure in film outside of her native Sweden in no time.
Overall, I found this movie to be incredibly sharp with its intent and execution. How far can we go with A.I. and humanity and can they coexist? What happens if one is to be corrupted, or perhaps both? This movie is astoundingly thought provoking and I will admit, although the tone is minimalistic, I was overwhelmed by the end. Garland absolutely kills it in his first film. His style is very polished yet stylistic and made an authentic movie in a difficult genre to do so in.