Is Ex Machina yet another in a long line of Promethean caution tales? Or is it a misogynistic nightmare about the evil extremes of genius? Or wait…is it in actuality a crypto-feminist manifesto? Or…is it like Dave Eggers The Circle or Spike Jonze’s Her a satire of a somewhat scary, occasionally lovely “watch out or we’ll be doomed in a split second if we aren’t careful” future just around the corner? With its slick production values and blank slate aesthetic, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is all of these things and none of them.
When a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) working for a Google-gone-mad-like company gets chosen to spend a week at the founder’s (the ever chameleon-like and always engaging Oscar Isaac) hideaway estate to work on a secret project, and it turns out to be the testing of new AI (the weirdly alluring and borderline creepy Alicia Vikander), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is all going.
Garland gives only brief survey-answer-like glimpses into the pasts of these two men, and well, Ava, she’s only “one” and has never been let out of her room. It makes for a mechanized affair where you’re programmed to root for the AI. But a well-played chess match where a woman outwits her captor(s) can still give you something to think about even while it refuses to let you feel anything. I mean honestly, I felt more watching the latest Apple Watch commercials. Which means the tech companies of reality and their future ambitions still have the potential to be stranger than fiction.
It will be interesting to see where Alex Garland’s career takes him. Ex Machina is an auspicious albeit cold directorial debut after some successful screenplays (28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go). He joins Duncan Jones and Rain Johnson on the precipice of being the next Nolan. Here’s hoping the three realize this and compete to one-up each other, which means movie-goers who enjoy a little brains with their entertainment might finally experience a winning streak.
Written by David H. Schleicher