Saturday, 9 May 2015

Ex Machina

I so much enjoy sitting down to watch a critically-acclaimed intelligent sci-fi film about which I know absolutely nothing. Great fun! If only Ex Machina had allowed me to sustain that enjoyment a little longer.

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is definitely one of those films about which the less you know the better. I was appalled to hear (after I watched the film) how the review in our local paper gave away an important plot twist. Inexcusable! I will therefore not reveal much of the plot here, other than to provide the setting: Caleb, a young computer programmer (played by Domhnall Gleeson), wins an opportunity to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the very wealthy and mysterious recluse who owns the company Caleb works for and creates robots on the side. Nathan wants Caleb to give his latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), the Turing test, analyzing Ava’s responses during conversations (sessions) to see if the robot qualifies as possessing artificial intelligence. The fact that the robot has been created to look like an attractive young woman adds an important ingredient into the mix.

The atmosphere in Ex Machina is the film’s greatest strength. It’s a dark, creepy slow-moving film in which you’re never supposed to be sure what is really going on. I love that. But, of course, whenever I watch such films, my mind can’t help trying to figure out what’s going on, and I did predict at least one major twist. Nevertheless, I didn’t predict everything, and the dialogue was sometimes riveting, so the potential was there for Ex Machina to become my second Wow! film of 2015. But for me the denouement felt neither original nor imaginative, and not the least bit satisfying. In the end, this film should have been much more suspenseful, shocking and haunting than it was (though it certainly was all of those things). 

Part of the problem is that the story never felt convincing to me. Is that because I’ve never really believed in the possibility of artificial intelligence or is it  because I didn’t find Gleeson’s performance sympathetic enough? I did think Gleeson was well-cast, as was Vikander, who steals the film. And Isaac, who is one of the great young actors of our time, is made for roles like Nathan. Great job! And the production values were solid enough (creating that atmosphere I liked so much). 

Gareth mentioned to me that he felt Ex Machina had a misogynist edge and I wouldn’t argue with that. Not only did one nude scene feel gratuitous, I felt uncomfortable, throughout the film, with the way women were portrayed. So I was disappointed with Ex Machina. But I love this kind of film so much, and did enjoy most of the film enough, that I’m going to let it slide over the line and give it ***+. My mug is up, but the brew inside is a little too dark and cool to be really tasty.  (see my comment below for a brief reassessment - I have decided to give Ex Machina ****, like Walter) 


  1. This was one I was hoping to catch in the theatre, but now you have me wavering. I think I'll still chance it. While I'm not a fan at all of unregulated artificial intelligence development (or at all), I do think the Turing Test will be passed by a computer before too long - at some level. Of course I haven't seen it yet, but one would have to suspect that one would find a little misogyny involved in this kind of work. (One might hope that the film would offer some critique of that - though come to think of it Garland's The Beach could probably be seen as misogynist as well.)

  2. I finally saw this film and I'll say right off that I give it **** and a certain spot on my top ten list. I think some of its very traits (including some arguably gratuitous nudity as you point out) that lead to accusations of misogyny are part of the brilliance as they are part of the experience of seduction (and, yes, I hope that female viewers experience some form of seduction as well) that one is meant to feel in watching - that set you up to watch from exactly the right point of view. I will soon write a separate review laden with spoilers.

  3. I just watched Ex Machina again. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it even when I knew what was going to happen and, after reading your review, I am prepared to revise my assessment of the film and maybe even give it ****.