I’ve always pondered the thought of what exactly will come after humanity. First, there were the dinosaurs, then there were the cave-men, and then came humans in our most advanced form. Naturally, there has to be a point in history when someone or something overtakes us. When that happens, will humans be the ones to cause their own downfall? Well, Ex-Machina, for one thing, forces us into a totally pensive mode about such notions. When an incredibly talented programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins the chance to visit his employer’s famously secretive and vast estate, he finds out that he’s really visiting a research lab. In fact, his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), happens to be experimenting on just how far AI can truly progress. So, no big deal. Caleb is soon introduced to the newest model of a female android, Ava (Alicia Vikander), who he’s expected to test the real intelligence of through humane conversation.
Ominous music accompanies a gloomily-lit and claustrophobic setting, located in the middle of beautiful terrain with tall trees and grandiose mountains. The performances from these three actors within that secluded house are exceptionally solid with Vikander being the clear standout. Throughout the entire film, she delicately stands on a balance between robotic and human. We see how she (subtly) erratically shifts her facial expressions with every single reaction and utterance. The audience is completely entranced by this remarkable creation, strongly anticipating how she’ll react next and how she thinks in general. How this all was visually constructed is simply inconceivable much like my astonishment at the way The Skin I Live In was pulled off. Showing these robots function–exposing their fascinatingly mechanical structure–rather than simply telling about the process only proves what cinema is capable of, especially without the assistance of a $250 million budget.
The dynamic between Caleb and Ava seamlessly evolves while we enter further into a philosophical frame of mind with the complement of thought-provoking dialogue between Isaac and Gleeson in between those sessions. And as for the usually-brilliant Oscar Isaac, his immeasurable ooze of charisma allows for undeniable empathy even when you don’t exactly trust the character. Every word of his carries with it a complex emotion; he effortlessly works with dark/simple humor, frustration, ambiguous friendliness, and that essential mystery. These two characters (Nathan and Ava) are so layered that it unfortunately leaves Gleeson’s character in a vulnerable, least interesting position once things really begin moving.
Anyway, with the help of a smart and thematically profound screenplay, we’re so bombarded with abstract ideas that we can’t satisfyingly analyze them before we’re met with even more questions about the (blurred) line of what defines man and machine. Honestly, I left the film with the plan to give it a second viewing because I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly to think about. Maybe that’s a flaw of the film, which ultimately shifts from a contemplative sci-fi talkie to a full-blown thriller by the end–an ending that seemed to focus more on its action than leaving us with a plainly-drawn message or question. In addition, on the basis of its quality as an effective thriller, some of the twists–of which there were quite a few–were admittedly predictable. After all, the tricky management of a twist includes the avoidance of obvious hints along the build-up to its moment, but in this case, there were several scenes that quickly pointed me to that conclusion.
One compliment I can give the picture, in particular, is that I really wished it was longer. There are so many elements to explore within the relationship between a human and artificial intelligence, and I felt like there just weren’t enough scenes centering on Caleb and Ava for that fully-formed chemistry to patently materialize–enough so that we could completely buy into the complex love and admiration the two seem to share for one another. Like I said, the movie substantially picks up for its climax and leaves those quieter, intimate scenes of sentient observation behind. See what I mean? Ex-Machinahas somewhat left me conflicted. It’s not a masterpiece because it does have its flaws–however, is it close to a masterpiece? Similar to my sentiments towards the movie Her, I was incredibly attached and enthralled for the first hour or so, sinking into the unique premise. By the second hour though (that darn “point of no return” mark in the screenplay format), the film is forced to switch it up a little too briskly.