Ex Machina ★★★★★
Much like Whiplash, Ex Machina is a film that I loved at the cinema, yet my writing on it hasn’t been published particularly publicly. A strong contender for film of the year 2015. Here’s my article, revisited and updated.
The last year or so (2014–2015) has had a couple of films that have been centred around the concept of humanity, and what truly qualifies as ‘human’. ‘Her’ featured an AI inside a phone/ computer whereas ‘Ex Machina’ features a physical body, even if the personality beneath is ‘artificial’.
What I immediately liked about Ex Machina is that it doesn’t beat about the bush — the main character (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is already on his way to the location in which the rest of the film takes place before he utters his first line of dialogue. This is no dragged-out Interstellar with 45 minutes of exposition; the film starts as it means to continue, and doesn’t relent.
The performances are fantastic, especially Alicia Vikanda’s Ava, who manages to perfectly tread the line between ‘obviously a robot’ and ‘lovably human’. Her balance between her character’s overtone and undertone is perfect. The cast is very small — only four ‘people’ occupy the film’s main setting — and everyone impresses.
The tone is eerie. There are moments that are very tense — most of the film in fact, as Gleeson’s Caleb digs deeper into the mind and behaviour of Oscar Isaac’s Nathan — and, perhaps thanks to its relatively short 108 minute run-time, never becomes anything but enthralling.
The only criticism I have would be the ending — not the content itself (I was quite satisfied with how things played out) but the pacing — I felt it lost some of the edge that was so abundant throughout the rest of the film. It perhaps felt a little ‘disassociated’, though maybe I just wanted something the film wasn’t prepared to give. It’s painful to write this without spoiling anything, which I would hate to do.
So instead, just watch the film. It was worth it in theatres, and it’ll be worth it at home. The closer we get to functional AIs (granted, an AI as intelligent as that seen in this film is still a good while off) the more important it is to identify the boundaries and fundamentals of ‘being human’, and the more this debate will become relevant and prevalent. That, and it’s a bloody great film.