Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Some of us love brainteasers – films that make us discuss “what ifs.” The ponderous and fascinating Ex Machina is one of those movies. You only need to know the barest description of plot to decide whether this story is for you. Revealing too much might lessen the entertainment.
Screenwriter and novelist Alex Garland helms Ex Machina, his directorial debut. He’s always fascinated with the future – he wrote 28 Days Later and adapted the strange Japanese novel Never Let Me Go. Both of them are grim. This is no different. In Ex Machina, he delves into the ethically cloudy world of A.I. – Artificial intelligence.
Gleeson (the son of Brendan, and the star of About Time) is a coder for a world-famous search engine company. The founder of his company – Isaac of A Most Violent Year and Drive – invites Gleeson out to his fortified compound. Isaac asks Gleeson to interact with a new invention.
Of course, there is more nefarious work afoot.
Already, there’s a sense of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Gleeson is pulled by curiosity. Unfortunately, he becomes trapped in a dangerous system where he cannot escape. His world is soon filled with psychologically unbalanced personalities and strange, overwhelming technology.
This film isn’t heavy on character or even plot. What it does provide is a complex and intriguing scientific world fraught with moral conundrums.
To that end, the sets and special effects are really cool. (The film only cost $15 million, which makes what we see even more impressive.) The compound is some of the most advanced, mysterious real estate in recent movie history. The hardware and software that Gleeson explores are provocative.
The questions Ex Machina asks us to consider aren’t really that new. However, as society’s interpersonal communication becomes more embedded with technology, these questions are still important to ask: what constitutes a viable human experience with a machine?
Maybe Gleeson and Isaac don’t really have enough backstory. The “mad genius” mythology isn’t expanded past cliché. A few scenes are just downright pointless and embarrassing – when examined in the larger scheme of the movie, we didn’t ever need a dance number…
The dialogue doesn’t help. Half of it is simplistically uncomfortable – “This is a bed.” The other half is the stuff that geeky computer aficionados would spout off, diving down a rabbit hole of logical and technical obscurity for hours on end.
I myself fear that audiences may be worn out with films about A.I., starting with the lackluster Kubrick/Spielberg film A.I. Perhaps you weren’t turned on by the intimate and wonderful Her. (If so, please avoid this film.) Maybe the recent, unimpressive Chappie burned you. The theme here is the same.
Much of Ex Machina is dialogue heavy and deliberately paced. The world has that hollow, synthetic feel of 2001. The characters aren’t deep, but the subject is – this is esoteric, heady stuff. The cumulative effect is a hypnotic and mostly successful sci fi thriller.