Ex Machina’s Simplicity Strives


By Corcoran O’Leary

Ex Machina writer/director Alex Garland treads in the well-worn territory of the ethics and dangers of artificial intelligence.

While this is not a bad thing, it raises the question of whether or not this movie has anything new to offer, and I can gladly say it does. Even though Ex Machina does not exactly put a fresh twist on the sci-fi concept, it tells its story with polish, relying on solid performances, an intriguing set-up and emphasis on human emotion to completely engage the viewer. Ex Machina’s strength is the simplicity and the ability of it to immerse the viewer in its world, anxiously waiting for answers.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a talented programmer working for the world’s largest search engine, a company named Bluebook. After winning a grand lottery available to all employees, he is flown to his prize, a week at the estate of BlueBook’s CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). After Caleb gets acquainted with the billionaire, Nathan reveals his true intentions for the trip, for Caleb to interact with Nathan’s creation, a humanoid robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), so he can determine if it is sentient. Ex Machina’s set-up successfully allows Garland to create tense moments, feelings of claustrophobia, and creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that veils every scene.

This uncertainty is what drives the movie, creating tense moments out of simple conversation, something that is most effective during Caleb’s sessions interacting with Ava. The score achieves in adding to the intensity of these moments. Isaac’s performance shines in a very subtle way; Nathan always manages to be slightly unnerving, and Caleb’s suspicions adds to the distrust of the character, a distrust that is harbored by a stellar performance and smart writing, rather than one laid out immediately by the script.

The isolated location of his extremely high-tech mansion in many ways begins to parallel a prison, windowless concrete walls surround Caleb’s quarters. This contrasts the vibrant forest that surrounds the compound, even more so when the compound finds itself soaked in red light. The unease of the movie is what makes it so fascinating to watch, you can’t help but eagerly wait for the answers to emerge. Ex Machina does justice to its sci-fi concept, laying out its ideas simply and exploring them steadily.

Not only is this movie smart sci-fi, but it is also a thriller in top-form, imploring various elements to achieve its goal of an entertaining as well as thought provoking experience. The added bursts of humor add to the movie, managing to clash with the predominantly serious tone. What Alex Garland has created is an atmospheric thriller with an interesting sci-fi premise that will leave viewers transfixed on the world he has created.