Alex Garland’s visionary Ex Machina is a treat for sci-fi buffs
Ex Machina is from the mind of Oscar-nominated English novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland. A faithful servant to science fiction, almost all of Garland’s screenplays have been dedicated to the genre. It’s surprising that the up-and-coming talent hasn’t been more hyped up, considering his screenwriting credits include Dredd, Sunshine, 28 Days Later, Annihilation and Ex Machina. His novel The Beach was adapted to film at the turn of the millennium, prompting the writer to explore more possibilities in film.
A knock-out directorial debut for Garland, Ex Machina‘s the film that put him in the running for an Oscar for best original screenplay. The sleek sci-fi and psychological thriller adopts elements from most of his sci-fi visions, gliding across screen with an eerie, beautiful, sparse yet thought-provoking sheen.
The elegant film follows a young programmer named Caleb Smith, who enters a synthetic intelligence experiment at a remote and private location after winning an in-house competition. Commissioned to evaluate the human qualities of a cutting edge humanoid AI by the company’s reclusive CEO, Caleb makes startling and mind-altering discoveries.
Not just sci-fi – there’s philosophy here, too
Ex Machina is a wonderful piece of science fiction, elevated by its smart writing, visionary direction, sharp performances and spell-binding visuals. Delving into the arena of artificial intelligence with unsettling and provocative drama using the Turing test as a starting point, this isn’t just a cerebral journey about what constitutes a self-aware sentient being.
Garland has a way of swathing his stories in mystery, keeping an air of suspense with strange motives and a slow-burning fuse. As writer-director, there’s very little spoon-feeding, and he gives audiences just enough to intrigue and propel the story without over-explaining or sucking the air out of the room.
Veering into pure science fiction, this intelligent psychological thriller has the chops to engage on a philosophical level without losing its dramatic undercurrent or suspenseful altitude.
Vikander, Gleeson and Isaac are a winning formula
Ex Machina benefits from an adept and subdued performance by Alivia Vikander (The Danish Girl). Her symmetrical facial features fulfil a perfect casting decision as Ava, with the Swedish beauty selling her character’s CGI while wielding inordinate power with an enigmatic presence. With a calculated and controlled performance that hinges on minutiae, the Oscar-winning talent delivers a career-defining and Golden Globe-nominated supporting performance.
Undeniably Ex Machina’s secret weapon, Vikander is flanked by the likable Domhnall Gleeson, who is best known for About Time, Run and Harry Potter. While Anton Yelchin may have been a better choice as our all-access pass, Gleeson keeps a lid on things with yet another sturdy turn as Caleb. His lighter presence is contrasted by the dark and stormy Oscar Isaac, who battens the drama down and keeps things unpredictable and uneasy, adding suspense with an ominous ringmaster role. Equal parts John Hammond and Willy Wonka, his seemingly limitless power and intelligence make him difficult to read and ever-threatening.
Kubrick fans will recognise Garland’s choice of contrasting visuals
Adopting a clinical Scandanavian edge, the visuals contrast the dense natural paradise surrounding the wealthy CEO’s private homestead with the space age corridors of his labyrinthine testing facilities. From the outset and movie poster, you’d imagine Ex Machina would be more invested in special effects and greenscreen but the sparse feel translates to the visuals, relying on the gravity of real.
This substantial yet otherworldly feel channels aspects from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.
Echoing its lofty title derived from deus ex machina (god from the machine), Alex Garland follows through with a blend of striking visual choices, atmospheric chills and incisive dialogue. Ex Machina’s refreshing by virtue of its headstrong sci-fi, leaning heavily into its screenplay and playing out of its league when it comes to production values. The strong performances from Hollywood’s next generation of acting talents just underline the foresight of this award-winning, visionary and almost timeless film.