In Ex Machina, Alex Garland, writer/director, weaves a tantalizing sci-fi tale that is part horror, part ethics/morality (whether A.I.’s should be treated humanely), and part romance. In keeping with the title, the work is constructed so that by the end of the story we have been given information that lets us know just how bad things are. “Deus ex machina” is a literary term meaning “god from the machine”, and refers to a plot device whereby a problem towards the end of the story is unexpectedly solved by the insertion of something or someone new. Although the “Deus” is left out of the title of the film, references are made to the god-like role the creator of the A.I. has, especially since his invention is made more human by being sentient and emotionally aware.
Garland is a master at juxtaposition: An ultra-modern home/laboratory set in the beauty of nature’s flora and fauna; a research site that appears to run smoothly and effortlessly with the help of the latest technology and a researcher fully in control, yet it could be called “the house of paranoia” when suspicious activities make their appearance; opening scenes are accompanied by the tuneful music of Schumann’s “Scenes from Childhood”, but in time there is a sense of dread, and the music becomes cacophonous. A scene that is bright and revealing will suddenly turn dark, when secrets come to light. CEO Nathan Bateman (Isaac) is a fitness freak, yet imbibes liquor and wine constantly.
Caleb (Gleason) is incredulous but overjoyed to learn that he has won a contest among young coding specialists in the computer search company he works for. He will get to spend a week working on a top-secret project with the eccentric CEO who wrote the Blue Book of code. Caleb is a bit taken aback when he is flown by helicopter to a field in the mountains and told to follow the river until he comes to a house. Nothing else is orthodox after that either, even simply getting entry into the house.
After entering, he encounters Nathan, who is indeed a physical specimen, and who is presently at a punching bag. As he guides Caleb through the property with enigmatic descriptions and instructions (“Your key opens any door you’re permitted to go through, but won’t work on those you’re not”), it is also clear that he is intellectually sharp and a challenging teacher. It is some time before Caleb learns what Nathan’s project is. But finally, he is introduced to Ava (Vikander), Nathan’s newest creation, and told that he will be doing a Turing test on her (finding out just how sentient and human-like she is).
Delightful special effects show Ava’s mechanistic appearance while including sufficient human qualities to make her attractive. Then when she unexpectedly dons wig and clothes, she is indeed a handsome woman. Also appealing is her command of language, her soft voice, and pureness of logic. Vikander cinches the role with just the right mixture of human and A.I. qualities.
Oscar Isaac’s talent shines through as a bearded, complex character with many admirable and despicable facets to his controlling personality. Gleason is making a name for himself lately in any number of films (Harry Potter movies, Calvary with his father Brendan, and Unbroken), and was named as one of European films’ “Shooting Stars” in 2011.
The excellent script, special effects, and acting make this the best sci-fi film I’ve seen. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be many more productions by Alex Garland.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland