in Review

Ex Machina

Ex Machina has the best dance scene of any movie I’ve seen this year. Intrigued? Good, go seek it out. It’s theatrical release was almost two months ago, but it’s still playing in some theaters and will debut on some streaming services later this month. Still not sure it’s worth your time? Let me try to convince you.

Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young geek who works as some sort of programmer at a giant tech company that’s a little bit Facebook, a little bit Google. He wins an amazing prize: the opportunity to spend a week with Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the company’s eccentric CEO, in his remote mountain home. When he arrives, Caleb discovers that Nathan wants his help testing his latest breakthrough: artificial intelligence. Specifically, he wants Caleb to conduct a version of the Turing test on the humanoid robot Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Despite the hard sci fi setup, Ex Machina is careful to never get too caught up in science or ethics, with Nathan often chiding Caleb for speaking like a scientist rather than a person. This is an Alex Garland film after all, so the specific details were always doomed to play second fiddle to broader emotional and philosophical themes. The story Garland wants to tell is a psychological thriller, with Caleb becoming increasingly paranoid about Nathan, Ava, the facility, and even his own humanity.

This is Garland’s first directorial effort, but it slots in comfortably next to the other movies has written. It’s another sci fi movie that shows a future where humanity is going down a dangerous path, where the most dangerous thing is people giving into their instincts, where nature is presented as amazingly beautiful but inaccessible. That I compare Garland’s first work to those of Danny Boyle is meant as a compliment, and I can’t wait to see more from the guy.

I also can’t wait to see more from Oscar Isaac, who one again steals the show. He seems to be the best part of every movie he’s in, so I can’t wait to see him reunited with Gleeson in Star Wars later this year. As for ol’ Domhnall, I kind of felt like he was hitting similar beats to those of his character in Frank, but more serious: a loner who thinks he’s a genius who struggles to handle it when he is confronted by a real genius. Alicia Vikander is not someone who I was aware of before this movie, but she certainly did an amazing job realizing Ava. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but her role works because of the way she plays it. Ditto for Sonoya Mizuno who brings wonderful physicality to Kyoko, the mute housemaid.

So yeah, Ex Machina‘s pretty sweet. It’s a movie about four characters in one location that hooked me on an intellectual level and kept me going by making stuff get crazy and intense. It’s not on the same level as Under the Skin, but I could see this movie having a similar trajectory – not a ton of money at the box office, but people start realizing it’s awesome when it makes some best of the year lists this December. Will it make mine? Maybe. It’s on there right now.

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