Saturday, May 02, 2015
Ex Machina posits that a reclusive search-engine billionaire named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has developed an artificially intelligent being named Ava (Alicia Vikander) in his home laboratory. Nathan brings Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) , a young programmer, to his estate for a week for the job of performing a "Turing test" on Ava. The test is meant to determine if Ava's intelligence is indistinguishable from that of a human, but Nathan throws in a few wrinkles. The test is conducted in a series of face to face conversations, and Ava herself turns out to be a bombshell whose component parts are visible unless masked by clothes. What's a lonely young programmer to do?
Alex Garland makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina, and the film puts humanity in peril much more subtly than Garland did in his scripts for Sunshine or 28 Days Later. The question of what it means to be human isn't exactly a new one, but what happens if humans fall in love with machines that are indistinguishable from people? Caleb is almost immediately smitten with Ava, whose one-room existence leaves lots of time for drawing pictures and causing the mysterious power outages that are the one blemish on life at Nathan's compound. Vikander gives Ava some fine, delicate shadings of curiosity and self-awareness, but if you begin to think that her personality seems to address Caleb's vulnerabilities a bit too perfectly then you may be onto something. The events that unfold over the week Caleb and Nathan spend together have a hidden purpose, one designed to find out just how much of a monster Nathan may have created.
The chilliness of Nathan's home and Ava's cell are cut against by Oscar Isaac, who gives Nathan the perfect degree of controlled megalomania. Isaac plays arrogance very well, he did it in Inside Llewyn Davis and here he underplays a messianic fervor regarding humanity's eventual replacement by A.I. Pay attention to the irritation Nathan shows when his silent housekeeper (Sonoya Mizuno) spills some wine, it's more than just embarrassment at a social faux pas. Isaac gives the film a needed jolt of energy, since Gleeson's character is required to project so much onto Ava that he ends up being a little blank. Though Caleb is very sweet when nervously chatting with Ava and smart enough to figure out Nathan's plans I didn't feel quite enough about the place he's in at the end, and that's probably the film's biggest flaw. Still, Alex Garland has a vision which he executes with superb control. The final uncomfortable shot of Ex Machina could serve as his depiction of the beginning of our end.