***WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS***
I didn’t want to have back-to-back posts dedicated to film reviews, but after watching Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland I left myself no choice. Given the recent award season push, I figured this review was relevant. If you have not read my review of The Revenant, another Oscar front-runner, you can do so here. I promise after this post I will get back to some writing. But I do want to keep film reviews in rotation, so enjoy!
Ex Machina was released just about a year ago today in the U.K. (April in the U.S.), so it is safe to say I missed the boat on this one. But as they say, better late than never! It has received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects & Best Original Screenplay (now you can sense my interest).
Right off the bat I was scouring Wikipedia for the filming location because it was beautiful. As it turns out, most of it was shot in Norway. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a programmer who wins a week long trip to the secluded house of his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). While he’s there, Nathan reveals to him that he has created an AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Nathan hopes Caleb can perform a Turing exam on her, which is where the AI is tested on its ability to appear human.
Oscar Isaac does a wonderful job of playing this drunkenly brilliant CEO who comes across as 50% bro, and 50% evil genius. Safe to say, he leaves you second guessing your allegiance throughout the film. This is perfectly complimented by Gleeson’s work as Caleb, who is honest, hardworking, naive, and too smart for his own good.
The film is broken down into seven “sessions” with Ava and Caleb speaking to one another separated by glass. At first, Caleb is in awe of what Nathan has created and is willing to run more tests. But as these conversations go on, something just doesn’t quite feel right.
The first turning point of the film comes during one of several “power outages” that are controlled by Ava. The whole complex where Nathan lives shuts down and runs on backup power, rendering all cameras and audio equipment useless. Ava uses this freedom of Nathan’s eyes and ears to warn Caleb that he is a liar who cannot be trusted.
As time passes, Caleb grows more and more wary of Nathan’s motives. Nathan gets drunk and passes out one day (a common occurrence), giving Caleb enough time to steal his key card and inspect his room. While in the room, he finds several AIs that were deemed obsolete, along with footage of earlier prototypes being used for sexual gratification and damaging themselves trying to escape the glass prison. Caleb now realizes that Ava will turn out just like the others. Soon after this, Caleb begins to question if he, himself, is an AI. He cuts himself deeply in the forearm and insects for electronics.
The only other character in the film is Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) who is Nathan’s housemaid. Nathan claims she doesn’t know any English. Besides a few scenes of cleaning up spilled wine, leaving Caleb his breakfast in the morning, and lying naked on a bed, Kyoko doesn’t seem to play a big part in the film. Although, Kyoko and Nathan share perhaps my favorite scene in the whole film, THIS AMAZING DANCE ROUTINE (clip contains explicit language). Sorry, I digress.
At the next session, Ava cuts the power and Caleb tells her of a plan to get Nathan drunk enough where he can free her of being “shut down” or killed. Caleb would re-program the doors to open, instead of lock during the power outages. Considering Ava controls the power outages, she would be able to simply walk out of her room and escape.
On the morning of the escape, Nathan tells Caleb how he installed a battery operated camera in the room to see and hear what the two were talking about during the power outages, exposing Caleb’s whole plan. But in turn, Ava’s use of human skills to persuade Caleb, means she passed the test according to Nathan.
Ava switches off the power, signaling the beginning phase of the escape plan. Nathan gloats as he talks about the unsuccessful attempt, however Caleb reveals that while Nathan was drunk the day before, he re-programmed all the doors. Meaning Ava can now leave her room and walk freely around the grounds.
Nathan knocks out Caleb as he sees Ava walking around on the security cameras. He confronts Ava and breaks off one of her arms. As he drags her down the hallway, he is stabbed in the back by Kyoko (who is actually an AI herself). While Nathan staggers to his feet, Ava stabs him in the chest, killing him. She then locks Caleb in Nathan’s room, takes skin and clothes from other AIs, and leaves Caleb locked in the compound as she escapes. She boards a helicopter intended for Caleb, and is last seen mingling with society.
This film was fresh, surprisingly witty, and just all-out crazy. All three performances were incredible, and it’s an impressive directorial debut for Garland. It felt like you might’ve known just where it was going right before it took it’s final twist.
From a screenwriting standpoint, the characters were all extremely well done. Especially Nathan, who is no doubt, incredibly smart, but also just as twisted. Caleb was a perfect victim for Ava to use for her own good, and Ava herself was equal parts seductive and chilling.
The thought of leaving behind Caleb, who throughout the film seemed to be the main character, rubbed me the wrong way at first. But all this is showing, is that Ava is actually our protagonist in this story. She is our hero in this Hero’s Journey.
This is certainly a film I would recommend, and one that I should’ve seen sooner. If you have seen Ex Machina, tell me about it below! What did you think? How amazing was Nathan’s house? Why did Ava leave Caleb behind? Why did Ava dress like my grandma? And most important, why did Caleb like it so much?