Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Ex Machina (2015)

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Chelsea Li

Author

Another in a string of science fiction movies (Short Circuit, Her, Chappie) to explore the humanity and motivations of artificial intelligence. Fundamentally, each film suggests that AI is innately motivated to seek independence and freedom. This one goes further by suggesting that AI can be infinitely manipulative to meet this end.

This is a cerebral film, and the limited number of characters and sets keeps things nice and simple. Garland, a prolific writer of some great screenplays, is impressive in his first directing gig. The drama, pacing, suspense, photography, and score are all polished. Dashes of comedy at just the right moments give the film a wonderful sense of balance. Orchestral stings and droning bass do a great job heightening the intensity of some of the more dramatic scenes. A great shot to end the film.

Some story questions. There are huge scars on Caleb’s back. Are they from the car accident he mentions? What purpose does the accident serve in the story? There is another moment when Caleb is dissecting his own arm without hesitation. Is he trying to figure out if he is also a robot? If so, I would have liked to see more of the psychological breakdown leading to that point. And while we’re not shown any real evidence that he IS a robot, he performs the procedure without showing any evidence that it hurts. So is he or isn’t he a robot? Are we meant to wonder this? And how does a helicopter pilot pick up a gorgeous woman in the middle of the forest without any noticeable surprise or concern? Was the pilot told in advance by Nathan that he should pick her up? Did Nathan really foresee the sequence of events unfolding the way it did?

I love Gleeson, as the characters he plays are usually complex and engaging, but I must admit that this character and performance is a little flat. Knowing little about him other than the fact that he’s an ambitious young programmer, he’s a little one-dimensional. Isaac is exceptional as the villain. With a more bullet-proof story and ignoring the bias against science fiction, his performance may have been Oscar-worthy. Vikander is great as the robot. Her expressions and physical movements are hypnotizing, and it helps that she’s doe-eyed and beautiful, too. This movie could very well be a springboard for all three actors.

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