Ex Machina is an independent film written and directed by Alex Garland who's previous work includes writing credits for 28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd. The movie features the acting talents of Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac.
Caleb (Gleason) is one of the top coders for the number one internet company in the world. After winning a lottery drawing to spend a week with Nathan (Isaac), the company's founder, he is whisked away to a remote location where something truly extraordinary is waiting for him. Ava (Vikander) is an android invented by Nathan in an attempt to create the world's first artificial intelligence and the next step in the development process is to have Caleb interact with and question her to see just how lifelike she really is.
Alex Garland, as a write, has been known to push the limits of science fiction by creating truly thought provoking stories that not only entertain, but also make you realize just how close we are to achieving and experiencing what was once thought to be impossible. While there have been many movies that explore artificial intelligence, this film may just be a tipping point in how this genre is perceived, much like how 28 Days Later kick started the zombie genre to the point where it has become a pop culture phenomenon. The story itself is very intelligent and well thought out yet remains accessible which I believe is due in large to part to such perfectly defined characters.
Oscar Isaac as Nathan is so much more than the mad genius one might expect in a film like this. The actor brings an every day sort of quality to him that really makes you believe this is just a guy who, even while overindulging in life's simple pleasures, just happens to be the smartest man on the planet. Gleeson is spot on as the wide eyed young programmer who, while naive in some areas, ends up showing a lot more depth and personality than he first lets on. Still, it's really Ava who is the key to the whole thing working so an actress was needed who could pull off the subtleties of what is essentially a robot that believes it is a human being even though it wasn't programmed with the flaws and imperfections the average person would normally have.
I honestly don't know much about Alicia Vikander although, after seeing her in this movie, I imagine she will be around in starring roles for quit e along time. She does an absolutely brilliant job of portraying a thing that was built which may also have become a living being. To sell this type of character, it's all about things like facial expressions, gestures, posture, and speech cadence. In a way, it's like the difference between Robbie the Robot and C-3PO. We can clearly see that Robbie is just a clinker of a machine, while the android from Star Wars played so perfectly for decades by Mr. Anthony Daniels has so many quirks and flaws, it really gives him a true personality even though we are to accept in those films that he is a robot and not a living being.
It's those details that make us relate to him and really defines not just what but who the character is and I really see Ava in much the same light. By the time you get to know her, through Vikander's performance, you are never quite sure what to expect or what she might do next and you can never really decide for yourself whether her actions are based on intricate and complex programming or if there is actual sentient thought going into what she does. If I go any further into this thought process I will inevitably end up in spoiler territory so I will stop here by saying that, thanks to Vikander's abilities as an actress, Ava becomes the reason why this movie rises above being just a good story.
Ex Machina is an excellent movie that could very well end up on my list of favorite movies at the end of the year. Garland has yet again created a really good story that goes much deeper than what you might expect from the science fiction genre. It also brings up topics like social conformity, gender equality, and ethics in technology, and shows how it all affects the world we live in today as well as how it will impact where we are headed as a species.