Ex Machina, a modern sci-fi take on age-old themes inherent in Pinocchio and Frankenstein, operates in much the same way. Humankind and the audience don't necessarily know what's forbidden to them unless they test the limits directly. In Ex Machina, CEO inventor Nathan has brought Caleb into his highly exclusive and reclusive home to be a part of a Turing test for his latest invention -- a stunning A.I. named Ava (played by the equally awe-inspiring Alicia Vikander). Like all good sci-fi movies, the less you know going into the movie, the better. Suffice it to say, questions of morality, sexuality, and technology arise. As always, the debate is not necessarily over artificial intelligence but rather the artificial soul.
This is director Alex Garland's first time at the helm, although his writing credits are certainly recognizable, spanning from Sunshine to 28 Days Later -- both films that were stronger on concept than execution. Ex Machina unfortunately operates on a similar fashion, sometimes delivering some brilliant follow-throughs of visual ideas and sometimes falling short with a regret of what could have been. Garland does have a tight eye for composition though, showing a Kubrickian bent with his attention to color and geometry.
Ava is a marvel of technology as well as intelligence, and it's amazing how far we can be led when we're still hyper aware by her formation -- coils of metal, illuminated wires only minimally humanized and masked by skin and reminded constantly of her artificiality. This is a movie that can be made or broken by the actress, and Vikander was my favorite part of the movie. I wanted more from Gleeson and Isaac, but felt that it was more a fault of the limited script. Vikander provides more nuance than her human counterparts in the movie.
It's interesting to think of this movie as a play or a chamber piece, given the constricted space and the number of players present. The deus ex machina device used in Greek tragedies could allude to the sparse numbers often utilized in the ancient plays as well as the idea of a convenient God as arbiter. Furthermore, the three main players of this particular drama all represent beings that contain what the next person lacks. There are so many different interpretations that could be given to each of the characters and although the movie would alter perceptibly with each iteration, it would still work. With that in mind, I would have loved a different take on Nathan's character. Isaac gives a bro vibe to a character that is usually all cold science and immaculate suits. The fact that this particular variation is just as at home on the dance floor as in a kickboxing class is highly entertaining, but there are only a few moments we get a hint of a more sinister, clever demeanor to Nathan and those moments are deliciously chilling and far too sparse.
I always appreciate a movie that can generate good conversation afterwards, and Ex Machina is definitely one of those. The general concept is not new, nor is it one that will fade with time. Humans are too concerned with playing God, the idea of sewing their own destruction, or what it is that separates man from machine. Whether Ava succeeds or fails the test laid before her is a question that can be argued amongst viewers, but Garland has succeeded beyond bounds by getting us to consider it.