A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) has been tackled as a concept on film in cinematic masterpieces (‘2001’), classic action franchises (‘Terminator’), and soon-to-be worldwide mega-blockbusters, ‘Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.’ ‘Ex Machina’, the new film written and directed by Alex Garland (known as a novelist and screenwriter for Danny Boyle on movies like ’28 Days Later’ & ‘Sunshine’), takes a much quieter, pensive, and in some ways, natural approach to the material. These are well-trodden concepts, invoking themes from classic works like ‘Frankenstein’, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, and even elements of film noir in both style and content.
Assured rising star Oscar Isaac is Nathan, the reclusive creator of a Google-like search engine, who invites promising subordinate Caleb (played with just the right amount of wonder and wariness by Domhnall Gleeson), via a company contest, to spend a week with him at his secure compound in the wild. The surprise upon his arrival is that audience surrogate Caleb has really been tapped to ‘test’ his boss’s newest invention, a sentient robot named Ava, in the form of a singular creation of flesh, sleek metal, and whirring gyroscopes played convincingly by newcomer Alicia Vikander. It is obvious at every turn in this maze of a fortress, with areas only accessible by uniquely coded key-cards, that not everything is as it seems, but the film captivates throughout it’s running time, forcing the audience to wonder just what is going on inside the heads of these three players in a complex intellectual game.
The film is able to enthrall because it takes a minimalist, deliberate approach to the material. The designs are subtle and convincing, all sharp angles in the residence, representing Nathan’s pragmatism and quick temper, while Ava’s appearance of sleek curves and warm lights invites trust and softness, a welcoming sense of technology. Even her name, Ava, an amalgamation of Adam and Eve, hints at the fact that she is the emergence of a new life-form, with her own agenda, not unlike those first humans in Genesis. Also not by accident is she played by a beautiful woman who conveys both a sensual and innocent aura.
An emerging disturbing undercurrent of ‘Ex Machina’ is its’ displays of misogynistic nature, particularly in Isaac’s character’s outbursts and identification as both an overprotective ‘father’ and a ‘god that giveth and taketh away’ to his creation. This is no doubt by design, and by the end of the movie it is clear that there is an alarming amount of distrust between the sexes, as presented here by this filmmaker – a theme certainly worth exploring, but perhaps a bit heavy-handed (and somewhat old-fashioned) as a plot device that takes the final act to a not quite satisfying, but still shocking conclusion.
Written & Directed By: Alex Garland
Running Time: 108 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -or- A-