For frontrunner of the festival, I’ll see Tim’s Doris and raise him Ex Machina.
So yes, I thought the film was quite good. And the audience seemed to agree with me. The film (plus director/writer Alex Garland, and stars Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, who were in attendance) got a standing ovation afterwards – and I’m fairly sure they weren’t just being polite, as the post-viewing conversations were mostly centered around the twists in the plot and interpretations of themes and characters, rather than what anyone “really” thought of the film.
Gleeson plays Caleb, a young man who gets invited to his boss’s house. Isaac plays the boss, Nathan, who happens to be a reclusive genius rich guy whose isolated home is the sight of an experiment. You see, Nathan has built an artificial intelligence in the general shape of a young woman called Ava (Alicia Vikander) and wants Caleb to help him test her to see if she can pass as a human being. And so begins a simple dialogue that quickly shifts into a power play between Nathan, Caleb, and Ava.
It’s quite gratifying to see a film that goes off without any apparent hitches. The cast, the plot, the script, the characters, the shots, the editing, everything just came together so well. Every actor was great, but I want to take this limited time to focus on Isaac (with a better breakdown of the characters if we ever do a proper review). As the kind of sort of maybe not main villain he comes off as a winning combination of Lex Luthor, Bruno Anthony from Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, with a few dabs of modern day cult of personality billionaires like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. He’s off-putting and unpleasent, yet with a captivatingly brilliant mind and base sense of humor no one could help but laugh at. I don’t know if Isaacs will get an Oscar nomination for the role (I’m terrible at guessing these things) but I’m sure he’ll at least be in the conversation come next award season.
Comparisons to Hitchcock feel entirely appropriate too, because Ex Machina is in many ways a classic mystery thriller like Vertigo or the aforementioned Strangers. Sure there’s no murder (not at first), but you’ll be guessing at character’s motives and identities up until the final few minutes. Yes, it’s the kind of film where anyone can be a robot, and there are hints dropped, and red herrings aplenty. And yes, there is talk of robot sex, which actually becomes a plot point.
One last thing I want to mention is the set. Maybe it’s all the artificial intelligence going around, but Nathan’s hideaway really reminds me of the Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s high-tech and sanitary, but it’s wight hallways also feel tight and oppressive (claustrophobic, as Nathan remarks). It adds to the sense that all of the characters are prisoners, trapped in a mad house together.
Well, with that pleasant though, look forward to tomorrow when I follow up with a panel on Ex Machina and AI.