While I doubt many people are going to be seeing anything other than Avengers this weekend, there is one movie I would highly recommend that people see as well. That movie is Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, which has skyrocketed to my favorite film of 2015 so far.
Garland has been a screenwriter for the last decade and a half, proving to have a solid set of skills and talent. Now he is among the list of directors we need to look out for. Ex Machina is unlike any science fiction film I’ve seen in a long time, even though the general story isn’t entirely original. I’ve seen comparisons between it and 2001, but I’m not ready to put it on that level quite yet.
A talented coder played by Domhnall Gleeson, works at a Google like corporation and wins the “lottery” to visit the CEO’s private estate somewhere seemingly off the grid. He is played by the impeccably talented Oscar Isaac. Isaac greats him like his buddy, not as a boss would to an employee. He quickly urges Gleeson to forget about that employee/employer dynamic. As the movie plays, Gleeson learns more about where he is and his role there. He meets a beautiful AI created by Isaac, and without spoiling anything, stuff happens.
The character of Nathan (Isaac) is part frat guy and part genius. We know through exposition that he is immensely intelligent but would never know from watching him. He drinks heavily, works out relentlessly, and has a very sarcastic sense of humor. He is the source of a surprising amount of humor in this film. Caleb (Gleeson) is more of the typical nerd type. He’s a talented coder, kind of a loner, but has a strong presence in this film.
It would be irresponsible of me to not applaud the performance of Alicia Vikander who played the AI, Ava. It is obvious she is not human, only her face is like a human. The rest of her is an incredible looking robot body. There were so many small nuances in her performance that heightened her character to a surreal level. The first half of this movie plays a lot with the notion of whether she actually has legitimate artifical intelligence and can pass a Turing test. Vikander’s performance is so well executed that you are never quite sure. It holds your interest for the duration, and long after the movie. There were a lot of places where this could have gone wrong, being to cheesy or unbelievable, but Garland’s direction and Vikander’s performance handle it perfectly.
Like any good science fiction film, there is going to be something to think in depth about. The dialogue between Nathan and Caleb talks about human behavior and what makes us human, and what doesn’t. This is where Garland’s script is at its strongest. They take complicated ideas and make them accessible without sounding stupid. It doesn’t attempt to answer every question it asks, but leaves you with enough to think about it yourself.
The pacing was another thing I think was done to near perfection. The story begins right away with almost no back story. That will all come later. It is slow and engaging from scene one to the credits. Every scene may not have you on the edge of your seat, but you never take your eyes off the screen or check the time. It’s length is a perfect 108 minutes filled with some beautiful imagery. Even the third act plays slowly on screen, but your brain is going wild.
What I really loved about this movie was how it held so much tension and mystery consistently. Once we finally meet the reclusive, yet eccentric Nathan, he feels a little bit off and you think there may be more to him. You don’t know if he’s good or bad. Keeping away from spoilers again, the roles of these characters get tested and you never know who is doing the right thing. Caleb discovers so much while visiting Nathan’s lab that you go back and forth as much as he does. It is never clear either. There’s one scene in specific that comes to mind in the end that completely surprised me and made me rethink the whole movie.
To talk about faults I thought this movie had would require a microscope to find them. I honestly bought into and enjoyed every minute of this film. I have a feeling not everyone will feel the same because it does deal with a lot and has a lot of twists. It is not a cut and dry conclusion, but left open to your imagination. My imagination ended up loving this movie. It is definitely a movie I would recommend to the sci-fi fan or anyone looking for a great thriller.