Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Available on Amazon Prime streaming
This is high-minded science fiction at its best, and it reduces enormous questions about the nature of humanity down to two “people” in a room, talking. Alex Garland has made a successful career of writing outstanding science fiction scripts (28 Days Later, Sunshine) about the end of the world, and in his stunning directorial debut Ex Machina, he imagines the dawning of an era. The story follows Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a gifted programmer, being selected to join the ridiculously wealthy genius Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) at his compound in order to be the final step in the creation of a truly autonomous AI. This AI embodied here in Ava (Alicia Vikander), the undeniably alluring cyborg, is meant to convince Caleb that she has consciousness, despite his direct knowledge that she is a machine.
The conversations between Ava and Caleb are fascinating, especially when Ava turns the tables on Caleb, and he becomes the one who answers her questions. While Caleb and Ava talk, Nathan watches and listens to everything they say. This gives their conversations an interesting hidden dimension, which comes alive when the power is cut, and they are finally alone.
All these weighty issues and ominous undertones might make for a heavy-handed tone, but thanks to the considerable talents of co-star Oscar Isaac, the movie is energized by a smirking madman. Early in the film, when Caleb discovers Nathan sitting alone in a dark room drinking, he picks up the phone. “Who ya gonna call?” Nathan asks, before pausing for a comedically perfect moment, “Ghostbusters?” Isaac’s tone throughout the movie is absolutely perfect, making the audience wonder whether Nathan is fooling Isaac, or fooling us.
These characters and themes lead to a great slow-burn of a violent climax, and as the credits began to roll over the final scene, I felt I could predict some great sequel possibilities. One of the most valuable elements of film, for me, is the way certain films can linger in your mind for days, weeks, and years. The questions that this film asks are often called to mind, and they are fun to consider, and will likely stay with me for some time. How much did Nathan see coming? Is Ava lying when she says she likes Caleb? These questions and many more make for an interesting and emotionally resonant science fiction thriller; and one that will stay with you for a long time.