A modern take on Frankenstein in the age of artificial intelligence, the man behind the vision of Ex Machina is Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later and Sunshine. This time he is both writer and director.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a mid-twenties coder at the world’s largest Internet company. He wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to the reclusive CEO of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When Caleb arrives he finds himself participating in a strange and fascinating experiment. He has to interact with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot woman known as Ava (Alicia Vikander). But the experiment twists into a dark psychological battle, where loyalties are torn between man and machine.
Ex Machina is an intense psychological thriller played out as a love triangle. The film explores big ideas about the nature of consciousness, emotion, sexuality, truth and lies.
Garland’s first outing as a director might appear simple on paper. “It’s about three people pitting their brains against each other,” he says. “It’s about how they test each other, try to defeat each other mentally and form allegiances with one another.” But when one of the protagonists is a robot, things get a little more complicated.
Garland taps into topics that have long fascinated him and plays on our fears and insecurities about technology, and the role it plays in our lives. “People are paranoid about AI and computers in general,” he says. “It’s on people’s minds, as it should be. I approach it from a slightly different angle, because I don’t exactly feel paranoid about it. With Ex Machina my sympathies lie with the robot.”
The isolation, the secrecy, the paranoia, the use of power and control … all these are unsettling elements apparent from the outset in the movie. As fascinating as is the concept of artificial intelligence, there is a sense of impending doom, that things are bound to end badly.
I liked the fact that this becomes a battle of wills and minds. You are never really sure who is pulling the strings … just who is playing who. Mind you, for all his smarts, there is no question that Nathan is quite a piece of work – egotistical and brutal. He is the villain in the piece; but then, is he the only one?
The plot unfolds through a series of interactions at the mountain retreat that Caleb has with the robot. They bond.
Garland has put together a thought-provoking science fiction thriller that pushes the boundaries.
Rated MA, Ex Machina scores an 8 out of 10.
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac
Releasing in cinemas: 7 May 2015
Rated: MA 15+
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television