I love a good science fiction movie, especially when it feels like it inhabits a world that exists in a conceivable universe; it feels like it could be real, even if the technology isn’t quite there (yet). Movies like her, Moon, and going further back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, exist in this type of slightly imagined reality and Ex Machina is one in the same as these other films. With great performances and an incredibly haunting tone, this film really stuck with me throughout the year.
Ex Machina tells the story of boy meets robot, boy falls in love with robot, and then boy and robot plot an escape from the eccentric billionaire that created robot. It’s a little bit of Frankenstein, little bit of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, but in a much sexier way. Ex Machina asks the questions of life, consciousness, and love, all while never leaving the compound of some super genius that has completely lost his mind. Also: hot chick robots.
Domhnall Gleason, who seems to be in everything these days, plays the main character, Nathan. He’s a fish-out-of-water of sorts, plucked from the doldrums of middle management in order to spend a week at the billionaire Nathan’s compound in order to test his latest creation. What he doesn’t find out until he gets there is that the billionaire’s latest invention happens to be the latest breakthrough in creating artificial life, right down to functional genitals. Because as is the case with every piece of technology, the human race wastes no time before they ask: “Can I fuck it?” The billionaire, in this case, confirms it: yes you can. And he probably has already.
Caleb is the perfect stand-in for the audience because he’s perfectly average in just about every way. He’s a cog in a much bigger machine, lives in a small apartment, and is painfully single. The week we see into his life is easily the most interest thing that has ever happened to him. It’s this quiet desperation he exudes that makes it so believable that he could fall in love with a beautiful woman that he’s fully aware is an android.
Alicia Vikander is the android in question in Ex Machina, and it is her performance that makes the film. Her depiction of Ava is wonderfully complex, as she bounces back and forth between a naïve little girl still piecing together what she is, and someone that understands much more that she lets on. She switches from damsel in distress to femme fatale so quickly, so flawlessly, that it just works.
Last but not least, Oscar Isaac is phenomenal as the billionaire crazy person, Nathan. As the antagonist, he manages to push Caleb’s buttons to an incredible degree, making you question who is actually being tested in this experiment. This film, along with his recent work has put Isaac in a special category of actor for me. Between this, Show Me a Hero, and even his admittedly smaller role in The Force Awakens, has put this guy in the Sam Rockwell level of instantly being interested in projects simply because he’s in it. He’s been doing some great work over the past few years and this film is a fine performance.
Alex Garland’s film is a taut, intimate sci-fi film, and one I can see myself revisiting for some time. It has moments that are truly haunting and almost Kubrickian and is a welcome addition to the pantheon of like-minded films.