Gods and Monsters
Chris Kavan - wrote on 07/29/15
Alex Garland has managed to do something that is rarer and rarer these days: craft an original story that is not only outstanding - but truly elevates the genre. A.I. films have come and gone, but few reach both the emotional and philosophical depths that Ex Machina explores.
If you are looking for a film where there is a lot of action, this is not your film. The film really only concerns four characters (one of whom is mute) and most of the time they are talking. However, these conversations serve to open up some interesting doors in terms of humanity and technology - doors others films just leave closed. It helps that Garland has some top-notch talent to bring these characters to life.
First is Alicia Vikander - a relative newcomer, and a someone I see great things in the future. Vikander plays Ava, the A.I. being tested. The way she looks helps, yes, and for such a low budget film the special effects are wonderful, but it is the way she moves, the way she tilts her head, the way she talks, just her eyes - that make really make Ava stand out. She brings this machine to life in a way that blew me away.
You have Domhnall Gleeson playing Caleb, a programmer who is given a chance to hang out with the world's most powerful tech mogul, only to find himself part of a secretive Turing Test on a breakthrough A.I. Gleeson brings vulnerability and wonder to the role, but also a more shrewd side when he needs it. His conversations with Ava (breaking up the movie into Sessions) are riveting. It drives the film as each interaction drives Caleb closer to Ava - but all that time you wonder who is manipulating who.
Oscar Isaac is Nathan, the (probable) multi-billionaire owner of Blue Book - the world's most successful search engine. He lives alone (mostly) and is part megalomaniac and part genius. Isaac plays Nathan like part Steve Jobs, part Eastern philosopher and part devil. He's drinking away his life, but is convinced he is going to shape the world. He is both jovial yet with an edge of insanity just under the surface. Someone that you want to trust, but to do so will only bring you disappointment.
Finally we have Sonoya Mizuno, the mute servant that serves as more of a visual reference - an island of calm amidst the swirling test of wills all around her.
All four characters play their part, but the rest of the film, from the cinematography to the script to the music all serve their purpose - and that is to elevate this film to rarefied levels. This is a smart sci-fi film - and one that is not outside the realm of possibility. This isn't some distant war in the future, this could literally be just around the corner - and it makes you think.