Alex Garland’s directorial debut is arguably the year’s most thought-provoking science-fiction film – polished, compelling and intelligent.
Dir. Alex Garland
2015 | UK | Drama/Sci-Fi | 108 mins | 2.35:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
Plot: A young programmer is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar – Best Visual Effects. Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Original Screenplay
Distributor: Universal (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 7 Jul 2015)
This could be 2015’s most thought-provoking science-fiction film. What joy to experience this movie about artificial intelligence (AI), this coming from a sci-fi fan who appreciates a potent dose of intelligent cinema. Directed by Alex Garland in his directorial feature debut, Ex Machina follows the footsteps of movies about AI, including Spielberg’s very own Artificial Intelligence (2001), and most recently, Her (2013) by Spike Jonze.
But it is unique in its treatment of the subject matter, though it isn’t completely original – Garland’s film instead chooses to focus intensely on the conversations between Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a guy who won a prize that requires him to fly to an undisclosed location, and Ava (Alicia Vikander), a female AI kept locked in a research facility run by her master, the unpredictable Nathan (Oscar Issac) who could be the world’s smartest scientist.
In the film, such interactions are labelled ‘sessions’, evoking a very clinical, diagnostic quality. The conversations are always compelling, pushing the right buttons in our fascination to follow Caleb down the rabbit hole. It is however never one-sided – Ex Machina is not just about one man’s quest to understand the most intelligently advanced of humanoids, but unwittingly it is also the AI’s desire to want to live the human experience in all of its complexities, perhaps even to transcend them.
“One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa.”
The film plays out like a mystery-drama, with Garland employing scenario lighting effectively to dictate how we should feel. When the occasional power shutdown causes the internal facility lights to turn eerie red, we are suddenly thrust into situations that are privy to only Caleb and Ava, slowly building up to some truly spine-tingling moments.
In that regard, Ex Machina is fairly unpredictable – but it asks the same old question that many sci-fi films have been querying for decades: what makes an AI truly human? When does it pass the test? What is the ultimate test? Garland’s film thinks that it may have the answers – you know it when you (think you) know it, and this is what makes Ex Machina such a satisfying watch.
Garland, most well-known as a screenwriter for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… (2002), deserves every bit of the praise he has been getting for Ex Machina. Without resorting to pyrotechnics or action, his film hooks us from the start… all the way to an astounding if inevitably ambiguous finale.