It’s time to get the philosophy degrees out again as we ponder over Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, the lucky employee of Bluebook who wins the prize of staying with the company’s owner and founder, reclusive billionaire Nathan Bateman for a week. It turns out Nathan has been creating a robot with the most advanced artificial intelligence technology, and has named her Ava. The job falls on Caleb to test just how ‘human’ Ava is.
Ex Machina takes a fresh step on some familiar ground. Love, or to be more precise, attractiveness, plays a key part as we see Caleb and Ava converse, and sometimes even flirt with each other. The ‘sessions’ as they are called, have an unsettling voyeuristic feel as the pair explore their feelings and desires. It makes for compelling viewing and Alicia Vikander does a splendid job with a tricky role. She gives Ava a childlike innocence, making it impossible not to care for the lonely A.I., forced to live a life of solitude.
When Caleb first meets Nathan, he offhandedly compares him to a god, and the film feels like it’s going to take a deep breath and explore this weighty topic. Instead, it lets the viewer make up their own mind. It’s obvious that Garland wants the audience to think about, and take sides in this debate, while also keeping the film clear and concise. Ex Machina does a brilliant job of staying outside of the discussion, residing in a morally grey area. One of the reasons this works, is the intriguing character of Nathan played by Oscar Isaac.
In a film of great performances, Isaac manages to stand-out with a strong portrayal of the paranoid genius. When we first meet him, Nathan leaves you feeling quite unnerved as even in the first few minutes we see wildly contrasting sides to his well-being. The character also offers some comic relief and at times it’s hard not to feel sympathetic despite some glaring flaws, which is a great achievement by Isaac.
Coupled with last year’s magnificent Her, it makes for very interesting viewing. Where Her questioned whether we could love a mass-produced, fully emotional operating system, Ex Machina takes a more physical approach and wonders can we love an A.I. that is presented to us as human. Perhaps the concept isn’t an original one, but there is definitely enough new ideas here to warrant a watch. It’s a stylish, tense affair that needs to be seen.