So I watched Ex_Machina…
This is a film that I had been waiting to see with eager anticipation but when it finally earned a theatrical release in my side of the world, life got in the way and I was too busy to see it. I was quite keen to see this film but I think I underestimated the potential quality it had to offer. I was expecting an average but entertaining film about a robot AI and instead was presented with a philosophical debate about the essence of humanity.
Okay, basic plot: Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer at a successful internet company. Caleb wins an intra-company contest which allows him the opportunity to spend the week at the secluded home of the company’s CEO – Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Caleb soon discovers that he didn’t just win this contest to holiday with his company’s CEO. Nathan has built an android, named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and wishes for Caleb to perform a Turing Test on it – a test to determine whether or not a machine – Ava, in this case – has actual consciousness. As Caleb examines Ava, he finds himself attracted to her and discovers that her consciousness reaches far beyond the limits of artificial intelligence and into the realm of true humanity.
This film shows a depth and insight that I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t the first film to pose the idea of a machine achieving humanity but it is the best one – at least that I’ve seen. I think the debate of what constitutes humanity isn’t a new one and, with technology advancing the way it is, it isn’t one that’s likely going to go away anytime soon. There have always been factors that have used to diminish the humanity of others – from race to religion, culture, nationality; the list goes on and on. It is possible that soon that list will include biology and the same points of argument that were used in the past will be used again. This film reminds me a great deal of the new Planet of the Apes movies which are asking similar questions about what constitutes humanity and when can human rights be given to non-human creatures. I think Ex_Machina – like Planet of the Apes – would be a fascinating subject for film study in schools. The two films pose philosophical, theological, ethical and moral questions which I think we need to consider.
The themes discussed in this film are extraordinary. Themes of God vs Man, freedom, slavery, the definition of life. All these aspects of the film are handled with a great sense of maturity and insight. This is one of those films that needs to be analysed and discussed over and over again; because it deals with so many issues at once. Director and writer, Alex Garland, does a beautiful job with this film’s construction. It’s such a balanced film. From the superficial layers to the deeper, thought-provoking elements; everything is showcased with great care and understanding. I also loved that this film left room for interpretation. It isn’t a dialogue-heavy film and often chooses to show you things instead of telling you things; thus, allowing for individual thought and interpretation.
Garland also does a phenomenal job trimming the fat from this film. It’s so rare to see a film that is free of bloat; free of filler scenes that don’t do anything but extend the film’s runtime. This film is sleek and lean. Every scene, every piece of dialogue propels the story forward. I also loved the aesthetic look of the film. This film looks ‘clean’ – there’s no clutter or over-filtering of shots to change their colour. It feels natural and this allows you to not be distracted by the look of things so you can engage with the film’s intellectual questions.
Ex_Machina is incredibly well-written, well-directed, well-shot but its best feature is the quality of its actors. As I’ve mentioned, this film has focused, non-superfluous dialogue; so the actors not only had to nail the little dialogue they have but also had to create atmosphere and convey emotion with silence. Alicia Vikander as Ava is the standout performance, for me, in this film. Ava is in many ways a child – she has knowledge of the world but no experience of it. Vikander portrays this brilliantly. She brings a playful, inquisitive nature to Ava but also a calculating, methodical approach to the character; thus, balancing Ava’s humanity against her mechanical form. Everything in her performance is thought-out, from the way she moves to her tone and pattern of speech, she completely fools you into thinking that she’s a robot. I’ve seen Vikander in a few other films (particularly enjoyed her role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and I’m hoping to see more of her because she’s a truly talented actress with great range.
Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are both more than deserving of a mention as well. Gleeson’s character represents the audience in this film. He’s naive and full of wonderment at the beautiful android whose humanity he has to examine. His character was probably my favourite in the movie and Gleeson brings the character to life with great emotion and empathy. Oscar Isaac is a man whose star is on the rise (deservedly so). He’s an extremely charming actor and has a great sense of commitment to the character in this film. The character of Nathan is almost god-like in many respects and Isaac portrays this with real confidence and dominance.
Overall, Ex_Machina is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It poses thought-provoking and challenging questions but never feels overly-serious or preachy. It allows you the room to fully digest and ponder the questions it asks and never tells you how to think or feel. It’s well-paced and well told with some incredible acting on display; the only real problem it has is that it’s predictable at times but that’s a very small fault. I’d definitely recommend watching it. 8/10
5 thoughts on “Ex_Machina Review”
This is also one of my faves of the year that I’ve seen so far. You may not have been ready for what it has to offer because every piece of marketing on it suggests it’s another sci-fi action flick. It is much more than that. Great review.
Just bought this on dvd today…very much looking forward to it!
I noticed Isaac and Gleeson were also in the cast for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like you, I enjoyed this film. The production quality was commendable, especially for such a low budget, and I regard this as something of an art film. It’s grim and dark, but very well executed.
Great review! I’m so glad to find that you enjoyed this one. Like you say, some films are great because of the questions they pose, not just because of the technical elements, although Ex-Machina is technically excellent too. Such a tight, confined little film, but all the better for it.
Thanks for a great review: you have nailed the essence of this film. Like you point out, there is more science than fiction in the story and its well within the domain of the possible. Drop in to my review and compare notes. I’ll be following your work.