Brainy masterpiece sci-fi. Ex Machina outclasses some of the most notable fictions and films about artificial intelligence, and even general science fiction for that matter. I expected an interesting film by Alex Garland (screenwriter of “Sunshine,” “28 Days Later”), marking his directorial debut, but I hadn’t expected such a confidently ingenious one. The performances break new territory for the genre, too, with Oscar Isaac as a reclusive inventor of a robot with the potential to adopt consciousness and Domhnall Gleeson as a programmer selected to be an interactive tester with Ava (Alicia Vikander), the latest prototype that might be closest to the final product.
I imagine the invention of a progressive lifelike robot that can think and imagine on its own, at its earlier stages, will look like this. I’m talking about the test run.
Yet there’s something more eerie going on, story-wise that is, with its misanthropic inventor Nathan and his unwillingness to extend respect to either his tester Caleb, or robots that he makes as human but treats like slaves. What I had realized is that the first twenty or so consecutive shots in a row that open the film were far more frightening and atmospheric than a single shot out of your average behemoth blockbuster. I was in high apprehension, without ability to predict what Nathan and Caleb would say or what visually I was to expect.
Yes, the eeriness. The mysterious mountain ranges of Norway where the testing facilities are that are idyllic but lonesome. The sterile surfaces of Nathan’s “home.” Then the cloistered testing rooms where Ava is kept, with a glass window separating her from the humans that speak to her. The subterranean corridors with uncountable hidden rooms that occupy something that is mysterious.
There’s a surge of bigger questions ushered in perpetually throughout the entire running time. The greatest mainstay oddity is to why Ava has seemingly been designed to please Caleb, a shy kid from Oregon who lost his parents at age 15 and has seemingly buried his emotions until he drops his guard for Ava. However, is Ava using her free will to seduce him with verbal repartee, and if so, to what purpose was she built? To be a cog in the workplace or to serve as man’s companion?
Isaac has finally sold me as a major actor whose knack for intelligence embedded in arrogance has been displayed in “A Most Violent Year” and “Inside Lleywn Davis,” and now this (the disco dance scene with a robot beauty also shows his hang loose wild side). Here is a character actor that gives us hope that he is perhaps the next worthy successor to Philip Seymour Hoffman, it is true that I incorrectly pegged him as a one-note sleazy actor when I reviewed “Sucker Punch” which is better off forgotten.
Isaac’s Nathan seems disdainful of his friends, for which he regards Gleeson’s Caleb, and every time he asks his companion to dumb down his speech he has an uppity way of continuing his. Gleeson is also remarkable in the way he uses his entire weeks’ trip to not just test Ava but to test his own brilliance, too. He wants acknowledgement for what a smart and sensitive soul he is.
Behind the camera, Garland has incredible control with his camera framing and ability to contrast bold colors – he has a sensualist eye, it’s as if he can get his audience to “touch” what’s on the screen. We see things in his film, but we feel them, too. Garland has not only evidently learned from the master Kubrick but has stanchly adopted that style without losing it once in the picture. Garland could also be the next visionary akin to David Cronenberg. He has not only also found the perfect ending but he has shot it flawlessly as well.
It’s only April, but this is one of the very best pictures of the year.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / THINKING TEENS / MASTERPIECE VIEWING