Ex Machina

 

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The writer Alex Garland makes his directorial debut with an exquisite tale of techno one-upmanship.

 

The clue is in the title. Not because the film is about a machine that has evolved (or not) from a god (as in the Latin phrase deus ex machina), but because writer-director Alex Garland is not one to condescend or compromise. Had this been the product of a major Hollywood studio, it may well have been called Sexy Robot, or some such (God forbid). But Garland – whose writing credits include The Beach, 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go – wanted to make his directorial debut on his own terms. Subsequently, he had to forego the bid budget and to opt for good actors in place of major stars. All of which adds to the film’s considerable calibre.

Stephen Hawking has warned that the “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Cue Garland’s cautionary tale, echoing the prediction that in no less than thirty years’ time mankind will have created an artificial intelligence that will outstrip his own a billion-fold. Ex Machina, for all its spectacular scenery (filmed in Norway) and awesome special effects, would make a brilliant play. It is, at its heart, a power play between three characters, all of whom has the potential to out-smart the other. There is a touch of Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth about it, with the theatrics replaced by technology.

 

 Ex Machina

 Meeting the future: Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson

 

A geeky computer coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), wins the opportunity to spend a week at the secret retreat of a brilliant search engine entrepreneur, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). The latter’s abode, virtually invisible in its rocky domain, has more than a touch of Bill Gates’ Washington lair about it, where comfort meets technology with a vengeance. It is here that Caleb is introduced to Nathan’s prize creation: an android with the ability to triumph in Turing’s Imitation Game – that is, to confound the line between human and artificial intelligence. The latter, Ava, is played brilliantly by Alicia Vikander, who nails the balance between the otherworldly and the eerily human. Her Ava has not only been programmed to speak and walk like a real woman, but to flirt, seduce and manipulate like one, too. However, is her preternatural curiosity a part of the programme as well?

Ex Machina is good enough that critics will be extolling its merits for decades to come. Garland has researched and fine-tuned every aspect of its creation with unerring intelligence. It may recall the oeuvre of Nicolas Roeg, or Stanley Kubrick, but is less bonkers than the former and more economic than the latter: it lasts not a minute longer than it should. Like its softly-spoken femme fatale, it is a nigh-on perfect piece of machinery.

 
JAMES CAMERON-WILSON


Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac.

 

Dir Alex Garland, Pro Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich, Screenplay Alex Garland, Ph Rob Hardy, Pro Des Mark Digby, Ed Mark Day, Music Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, Costumes Sammy Sheldon Differ.

 

DNA Films/Film4/Scott Rudin Productions-Universal Pictures.
108 mins. UK. 2015. Rel: 21 January 2015. Cert.
15.