With profundity in its science & rationality in its fiction, Ex Machina is one of the most pleasant & unexpected surprises to surface on the silver screen this year and is impressive enough to be ranked amongst the better examples of sci-fi filmmaking in recent memory. Crafted with immense care, told with sustained composure, nicely balanced in all aspects, and further elevated by commendable performances from its committed cast, Ex Machina may seem like an art-house feature with an abstract story from the outside but from a closer observation, it packs in a highly accessible plot which is elegantly narrated from start to finish.
Ex Machina tells the story of Caleb, a young programmer working at the world’s leading search engine company, who wins the chance to spend a week at a high-security facility in a remote location which also happens to be the home of his company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan. Once at the facility, Caleb is required to sign a non-disclosure agreement following which Nathan introduces him to his latest research; the world’s first true artificial intelligence housed in the body of Ava; a female android. Nathan asks Caleb to perform live Turing Test on her & provide his assessment at the end of the week but the more Caleb interacts with Ava, the more he’s fascinated by her human qualities.
Written & directed by Alex Garland in what is actually his directional debut, this sci-fi thriller is an incredible start to his filmmaking career and it’s going to be very interesting to see where he goes from here. Exhibiting the acquired qualities of an auteur in his very first effort, Garland takes the science & technology that’s already prevalent in the present world, adds a few fictional elements but keeps it to its bare minimum, infuses the story with existential themes, smoothly handles the camera to capture each moment in pristine quality, allows the plot to unfold at its own pace, and succeeds in elevating the entire mood & tension of the film to its desired effect through effective use of its background score.
The production design team takes a grounded approach with set pieces and the technology it puts on the screen isn’t far from what exists in the R&D divisions of today’s tech companies. Setting the story in a lush but remote location does work out in the film’s favour for it encapsulates the whole picture with an aura of mystery which is constantly felt. Cinematography makes wonderful use of its camera, colour tones & lighting for the images are undeniably beautiful to look at plus the fluid but meticulously controlled movements of its camera only pulls the viewer into its tale. Despite the slow pace, its 108 minutes of runtime never becomes tedious. And last but not the least, the background score is always in sync with what’s unfolding in the story.
Coming to the performances, Ex Machina features a minimal cast in Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander & Oscar Isaac, and the acting by all three of them is wholly convincing. Gleeson does very well in the role of Caleb, the young coder who wins the chance to spend a week at his employer’s place and assist him in his latest research. The audience gets to enter this story through Caleb only and Gleeson does a good job in taking us through to the end. Oscar Isaac continues to strengthen his acting résumé with another excellent work, this time playing the role of Nathan; the CEO of the company Caleb works for. But it’s Vikander who steals the show with her fabulous rendition of Ava, a humanoid robot with AI and her automated movements, controlled emotions & fixed gaze goes a long way in making her character more believable.
On an overall scale, Ex Machina is a brilliantly envisioned, diligently crafted & skilfully executed example of science-fiction filmmaking that’s smart, intuitive & compelling on all levels and for a first time director, this is an extremely polished effort. An intriguing meditation on isolation, consciousness & what it means to be human, what separates Ex Machina from other sci-fi flicks released in the past few years is the simplicity & familiarity of its world to ours and how close it all seems within the grasp of current world technology. There is no denying that its technical aspects are highly refined and the cast does its best with its respective characters yet the best thing about Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s direction for the maturity he shows in translating the deftly scripted story on the film celluloid is no short of astonishing. Highly recommended. Multiple viewings advised.