Film Review: Ex Machina


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Katie Heslop reviews smart new sci-fi film Ex Machina, which is currently showing at Curzon Canterbury.

The exploration of artificial intelligence in cinema has been growing in momentum in the last few decades, which can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s A.I Artificial Intelligence (2001), I. Robot (2004) and The Machine (2013). This increase runs alongside the ongoing debate as to whether artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity, recently fired up by Stephen Hawking’s prediction that the creation of artificial intelligence heralds the end of human kind. Another reason this burgeoning sub-genre of film is so popular is that it marries two themes which film makers and audiences are fascinated with: the parent-child relationship and the destruction of humanity.

In Ex Machina, director Alex Garland predicts what could possibly come after humanity, and it is chilling and bleak. Films concerning A.I used to be set far off in the future, in fantasy sci-fi lands, a prime example being Spielberg’s A.I Artificial Intelligence. Contemporary films are set only a few years in the future and the world is distinctly recognisable, reflecting the increasing possibility of A.I becoming a reality.

The initial premise of Ex Machina is simple; in a spin on Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, computer programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the chance to spend a week with his employer, the Willy Wonka of computer tech Nathan (no surname is given). Nathan is a reclusive billionaire and creator of the world’s most prominent search engine ‘Blue Book’. However, when Caleb hops off the helicopter and arrives at Nathan’s pristine complex he soon discovers the real reason behind his visit. Caleb is to conduct the Turing test on Ava, and A.I built by Nathan. If she passes the test then she has consciousness and Nathan has succeeded in creating the first ever Artificial Intelligence.

Caleb and Ava never touch, reflecting Ava’s elusive nature, but their connection transcends the glass between them. Both are lonely and starved of human interaction and both are under the control of Nathan, who watches over their meetings from his office. An uneasy sexual tension develops between Ava and Caleb, which is even stranger when you consider that Nathan, a father figure to Ava, is encouraging their flirtations.

Alicia Vikander is superb as Ava. Through her body language, Vikander communicates Ava’s curiosity about the world; she kneels close to the glass, leaning in, eager to take in every world Caleb utters. Vikander is able to express Ava’s intelligence and strangeness through her expressive face, which at times falls blank – and it is in these moments you have to worry about what is she is thinking with her brilliant brain.

Oscar Isaac plays Nathan as a macho genius, whose brilliance brims over through twitches, uneasy eye contact and a drinking problem. However, it becomes clear as the film goes on that Nathan’s ambitions are not purely scientific. He transitions from being a man driven by the desire for mechanic perfection, to an isolated perverted character, intent on creating his own perfect woman.

The dialogue is flowing and natural, and thankfully not full of soliloquies from Nathan about how he has altered the course of history. His arrogance is demonstrated in subtler, more realistic ways. The scenery surrounding Nathan’s house is dramatic and colossal, reflecting the danger which surrounds nice guy Caleb as he is faced with two freakishly intelligent and persuasive beings.

The film deals with so many themes and issues it makes my head spin, but style and tension is never sacrificed for lofty ideas. Ex Machina is a thoroughly entertaining film which keeps you guessing until the dramatic and ambiguous ending.


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