Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
by Jason Koenigsberg
Ex Machina, the intelligent new sci-fi thriller from director Alex Garland gets its title from the Greek term “deus ex machina” where a character or item suddenly appears in a story to solve a seemingly impossible problem. The film starts out with our main character Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), by pure luck is dropped into a situation on his boss Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) isolated estate out of nowhere to interact with a female advanced artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander).
This scenario of characters falling into a strange world or situation has been previously executed very well in episodes of the Twilight Zone and done in a more mediocre fashion in Predators (2010). Ex Machina is more in line with the former; this film felt like a longer episode of the UK series Black Mirror with its tone, its sets and the overall message warning us about the dangers of technology.
The first aspect that really should be commended is its cinematography. I loved the seemingly minimalist yet intricate look of the film. The majority of the film takes place in 1 setting, Nathan’s house, and the production design is outstanding making it look more interesting than it should with its predominantly bare walls and few windows creating a claustrophobic environment. Garland does an excellent job framing his characters in each shot where it looks as if they are in their own panel on the page of a graphic novel. This illustrates the vast differences between our three main characters and their motives remain mysterious. I also loved the way certain colors really stood out in each shot particularly red, green and blue and they are paramount for the artistry of Ex Machina.
Someone who is looking for a sci-fi action thriller with a rat-a-tat speed will be disappointed. This film is edited with restrained pacing. I did not find Ex Machina to be slow as many people might, but it creates a very ominous mood. The whole time I was watching the film I was captivated not because I was in suspense, but because it created an atmosphere of unease with our three main characters in their confined surroundings.
Speaking of the emotions Ex Machina creates, this particular science fiction film feels like it takes place in the very near future, by that I mean it creates a feeling where it could take place sometime next year, or even next week, or even two hours from now. If you turned on CNN tomorrow and saw a report that a giant technology corporation like Apple created an A.I. that could do everything Ava does in the film, it would be big news, but I also do not think anyone would be that surprised.
All three of the main actors turn in superb performances. Domhnall Gleeson as the protagonist does a very convincing job conjuring various emotions from his acting and has the ability to make the audience feel what he is feeling at all the right moments. Alicia Vikander creates a sultry and believable android and is one of the main reasons Ex Machina resonates so well. Oscar Isaac turns in another great performance as the owner of a technology conglomerate channeling his inner Mark Cuban with a dash of Christopher Walken in some scenes.
The strongest theme of Ex Machina was not even about technology, but about humanity as it ultimately provides a dark allegory of love. This is like a distant black sheep cousin to Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). It examines what loves mean to us as humans, how much we need it and how far people will go for love.
Ex Machina emerged as a powerful film not just because it feels like it could happen but also because this is a film about ideas. Very few films make ideas their central focus. It is not primarily character driven or plot based. It takes very big ideas and offers its audience to question how far humanity should take these ideas that feel within our grasp. Allusions to Frankenstein, Plato’s Cave Allegory and Greek myths are made and these themes have all been tackled before in cinema, but it is very refreshing to find a movie that illustrates the warnings of technology spliced with a tragic love story in such a compelling, artistic and thought provoking manner.