Ex Machina

UK | 2015 | Directed by Alex Garland

Logline: A computer programmer is selected to participate in testing the human qualities of a prototype android with Artificial Intelligence.

Alex Garland is a clever fellow. I don’t like all of what he’s done in the past, but I admire his storytelling skills. I loved his novel The Beach, and I really like the first halves of 28 Days Later and Sunshine (both original screenplays). I’ve not seen his adaptation of Never Let Me Go, but I thoroughly enjoyed his screenplay for Dredd, and, now, I adore Ex Machina. Yup, I’ll even go one step further, I have a crush on a robot in a movie. There, I said it. 

Ex Machina is Garland’s directorial debut and it is a stunning piece of work, all mood and ambience, suggestion and restraint. It drips with a seductive science fiction premise, full of literary references, drenched in atmosphere, the vibe is lush and elegant, hard, smooth, and yet beautifully fragile. Garland will be hard-pressed to come up with a sophomore effort better than this sleek, beautiful machine.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young computer programmer working at the world’s largest Internet search engine company, Bluebook. He wins an in-house competition and is flown to a secluded property in the (Norwegian) mountains, where his boss, the genius CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isasac), lives as a recluse, apart from his immaculate housemaid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). 

Caleb is to take part in a special testing and evaluation process, chiefly the Turing test, in order to ascertain whether Nathan’s prototype A.I., in the form of a fembot called Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass muster as a human, in terms of its/her emotional and intellectual abilities. Caleb and Ava form and immediate bond, whilst Nathan observes their interaction through surveillance cameras.

The title alone is a brilliant play. The Greek phrase “deus ex machina” (god from the machine) refers to a plot device where a difficult problem is miraculously solved by the contrived intervention of some other event or by a character. By removing the “god”, the title implies that the A.I. progresses toward singularity, or transcends its machine trappings, and in Ex Machina, Nathan is playing God and Ava is his muse.

The three central performances, especially those of mischievous Isaac and sensual Vikander, are superb. The production design by Mark Digby, and the striking use of special effects (chiefly the work on Ava and Kyoko) is exceptional. The ambient music, credited to Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, is excellent (reminding of the work of Carbon Based Lifeforms), as is the Rob Hardy’s pristine cinematography.

I found it hard to fault this movie. The ethereal, dreamy atmosphere, combined with its sombre, even ominous tone is similar to Spike Jonze’s wonderful Her, a perfect companion piece. Ex Machina is definitely one of my very favourite movies of the year.