Soon enough, robots with artificial intelligence will walk among us. And like us, they will love the colors of the forests and the blue sky. They’ll crave freedom and hate the seemingly arbitrary idea of their own mortality. They may also have problems sharing a planet with their creators.
These are just a few of the assumptions behind Ex Machina’s plot, and whether or not you agree, it’s safe to say that the claims are laid out convincingly in this story of young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a contest to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the reclusive genius who owns the Google-like company where Caleb works. Arriving at the modernist stronghold, Caleb finds the retreat is more like a mad scientist’s laboratory, and circumstances become increasingly strange as the film unreels.
Around the world, reviewers are falling all over themselves to praise Ex Machina (Psst! The correct pronunciation is Ex-maw-KEY-na.), though moviegoers who like science fiction for explosive spectacle value might get antsy during the first two-thirds of the movie. Alex Garland is renowned for writing thought-provoking sci-fi (28 Days Later and Sunshine), though this is the first time he’s directed his own visions. Cinematically, he hews close to the psychedelic mode of classic cinema that Stanley Kubrick championed, with big indifferent but beautiful scenery shot with dramatic still takes and an antiseptic interior world where humanity gets lost in ideas. The most significant difference is Garland’s messy sense of blurred but uncanny sexuality — the film imposes human on machine and vice versa in ways that would tickle Sigmund Freud’s fancy.
Slow, weird, and beautiful, this is a movie about god, humanity, and machinery that makes you fearfully aware that erasing the line that separates all three might be less than a logarithm away — and then we can talk about sexy robots without snickering.