Was Victor Frankenstein more of a monster than his own creation? Alex Garland’s first directorial effort, Ex Machina, is a Sci-Fi film that portrays an original interpretation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. When a young programmer is chosen to participate in an exciting experiment dealing with artificial intelligence, nothing is what it seems. The film stars the very talented Oscar Isaac, along with Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander.
Garland, who penned the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine, has written an intelligent piece of Sci-Fi drama that questions our morals and examines our obsession with technology and control. The protagonist, Caleb, is sent to an isolated facility in the icy mountains, where he meets Nathan, a genius inventor that’s honing his craft. The camera takes in the beauty of nature itself and juxtaposes it with Nathan’s home, a sleek, tech-savvy facility made by the tireless hands of man. Nature and technology are intertwined; both can create, but the other knows control doesn’t exist in creation.
Garland’s script is smart, although the ending wasn’t as strong as it could have been. He did something similar in Sunshine, where the third act just didn’t match the previous two in quality; however, Ex Machina’s ending isn’t as bad. The events get progressively tense as the story moves along, and the film does stir up conversation about obsession with technology that becomes very intriguing. Artificial Intelligence isn’t too far away, and the film touches upon playing god, perhaps even commentating on the means of why we were created through Nathan’s ambiguous reason of creating A.I. The slow-burn pace, and smart characters really anchor the film well, even with the somewhat predictable ending.
Oscar Isaac is on a roll with amazing film choices, as he plays the blunt, genius, relatively insane inventor, Nathan. Isaac arguably turns in the best performance in the film, as he’s humorous, but also quite insane, as a mad genius should be. He’s a persistent man that believes in perfection, and those two traits are rather dangerous. Nathan isn’t portrayed to be exactly monstrous, but there is definitely a monster inside him.
Caleb, the protagonist played by Domhnall Gleeson, does a serviceable job as the young programmer that wants to “do the right thing.” Gleeson turns in a solid performance, but he’s the weakest link in the cast, as we don’t quite feel for his character, even with his tragic backstory. The character has very relative experiences, but Gleeson never really fleshes that out. He’s at his most interesting when dealing with his attraction to the A.I. robot, especially in a sexual sense, but even then he’s not up to par with everyone else.
Alicia Vikander, as Ava, the A.I. machine, plays her role with innocence and passion, losing herself in it. Ava is similar to a young child discovering things for the first time, and Vikander portrays that look of wonderment perfectly. She hits a variety of notes with her performance, making for a beautiful composition.
Overall, Ex Machina is a film that breathes some fresh air into the Sci-Fi genre. Our obsession with immortality through creation and technology is evident in this project. Nathan wants to play God through perfecting his creation despite using a human being to do so, Caleb pursues love even if it means sabotaging someone’s life work, and Ava wants to be free by all means necessary. From the right perspectives, we’re all monsters in our own ways.