WRITTEN BY: Alex Garland
DIRECTED BY: Alex Garland
STARRING: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
RATING: 4 stars
Eccentric genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac) invented Blue Book, the world's best search engine, and now lives on a remote estate accessible only by helicopter. His latest invention is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a beautiful and intelligent robot. Programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen from among Nathan's employees to visit his home and be the first person besides Nathan to interact with Ava. Caleb's role is to partake in a test to determine if Ava's personality is indistinguishable from a human.
Alex Garland has written several screenplays but this is his directorial debut. He expertly explores the human side of artificial intelligence, rather than making robots automatic evil adversaries to humanity. In fact, Ex Machina starts out as a science fiction tale with a hint of a bromance and a romance, before inevitably becoming a thriller. The film is certainly never boring despite confining the story to one place and three people. Garland's examination of sexuality is also unique as he looks at the bigger picture of how people experience and feel love and whether artificial intelligence can ever reach that level.
The characters are all so complex and intriguing. Nathan is strange in the way he tries to relate to Caleb as a friend but is actually more interested in getting drunk every night, exercising and playing with his inventions. Isaac is wonderful in the bratty role and he has a memorable dance scene that is both impressive and embarrassing – in a good way. In contrast, Caleb is an insecure geek who openly admires Nathan as a hero. Gleeson portrays him with a sweet naivety despite his technical abilities and he is relatable. But it is Vikander who steals many scenes with her facial expressions and mannerisms. Ava is at first shy but also curious and at times quite manipulative. Even as the story takes a more sinister turn, her character remains sympathetic.
Ex Machina is creepy, fascinating and thought-provoking.