'Ex Machina' Proves That Philosophical and Minimalistic Sci-Fi Can Be Beautiful, Too

By James Jay Edwards
Released: April 24, 2015
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A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

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Film Review
More than twenty years ago, the character of Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park (played so effortlessly by The Fly's Jeff Goldblum) argued against the creation of the dinosaur park by saying that "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." The same sentiment could be applied to the concept of Artificial Intelligence in Ex Machina.

Ex Machina is about a young tech company worker named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson from Frank and Unbroken) who is brought out to the secluded mountain estate of his employer, Nathan (Oscar Isaac from Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year), for a special assignment. After signing all of the necessary confidentiality agreements, Caleb is told why he is there; Nathan has created an Artificially Intelligent being named Ava (The Fifth Estate's Alicia Vikander), and he'd like Caleb to spend some time with it to see if its intelligence can pass for human. Right from the start, Caleb is amazed by Ava, even developing feelings for the robot as Nathan watches their exchanges on a closed circuit monitoring system. Caleb soon finds his loyalties torn between those of his human employer and those of his new robotic acquaintance.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (28 Days Later., Dredd), Ex Machina is not your grandfather's science fiction movie. It's got a few of the classic tropes, with Nathan playing the mad scientist, Caleb acting as the oppositional voice of reason, and Ava taking on the role of the runaway robot, but the movie has a much more modernized feel to it. There's a moral ambiguity that permeates the entire film; Nathan has a specific and exact reason for everything he does, and he is very articulate at explaining himself, so it's hard to think of him as a villain. Despite the lack of a distinct antagonist, there is plenty of conflict and struggle in Ex Machina, it's just that it ends up being between two shades of grey instead of having the lines clearly drawn out. And that's what makes Ex Machina a fascinating movie - it raises a philosophical discussion in which there is no right or wrong, just two equal perspectives.

There's a refreshing minimalism to Ex Machina that is, well, refreshing. The entire movie takes place in and around a single building. With the exception of a couple of very minor roles, like a helicopter pilot here and a non-English speaking housegirl there, the only characters are Caleb, Nathan, and Ava. The simplicity of the story keeps the pretension level down so that Isaac, Gleeson, and Viklander can really shine. And shine they do; the trio brings Garland's script to life brilliantly. Ex Machina just goes to show that a huge budget is not needed to make an effective science fiction film; all that's really necessary is a well-written script, a talented cast, and a little creativity.

Ex Machina is a gripping sci-fi fantasy with a real-world feeling. It's a modern classic.and that's not even mentioning Oscar Isaac's amazing drunken disco dancing scene.
The photography in Ex Machina is nothing short of stunning. Cinematographer Rob Hardy (The Invisible Woman) goes to great lengths to visually separate the clinical, scientific world inside Nathan's compound from the natural, Earthly beauty that exists outside of it. The rooms and halls of the home are bathed in red and orange light, giving the internal scenes an entirely synthetic look to them. In contrast, the estate is set on top of a beautiful mountain, so when Caleb and Nathan go outside they are surrounded by green grass and trees as well as the browns and greys of the earth and the white of the freshly fallen snow. It's a fantastic juxtaposition of colors, and it really contrasts what is happening inside the walls of Nathan's house as opposed to what is going on just outside. Rob Hardy's cinematography and use of color help Ex Machina make the jump from compelling story to breathtaking movie.
Because Ex Machina is such a hi-tech movie, one might expect the film to have an electronic score as well. And it does. However, Ex Machina does not have the 8-bit video game score full of beeps and blips that one would think that it should have. Instead, composers Geoff Barrow (Exit Through the Gift Shop) and Ben Salisbury (Whose Britain Is It Anyway?) deliver a collection of ambient soundscapes - mellow and peaceful music that, while soft and ethereal, has just enough of a sinister sound to remind the audience to trust no one. The soundtrack to Ex Machina is both humanistic and mechanical, and the music of Barrow and Salisbury does a great job at reinforcing the man-vs-machine theme of the film.

Drama, Sci-Fi
Release Date
April 24, 2015
MPAA Rating
Production Designer
Music Score