“Ex Machina” is an ambitious science fiction drama that focuses on an aspect of human nature you rarely see explored in the genre: lust.
Ostensibly, writer/director Alex Garland’s film is about a robot that seems to have crossed the threshold into human-like sentience. But really, it’s a tale of sexual attraction between man and machine, and all the troubling consequences that entails.
Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young programmer who has won a contest to spend a week at the remote domicile of his company’s super-rich founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). A wunderkind billionaire, Nathan lives virtually alone in an antiseptic research facility with only his creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), a robot that he thinks could be the world’s first man-made person.
Ava cannot physically pass for human: except for a fleshy face and appendages, she’s an elegant mix of metal parts. But during their long interview sessions Caleb begins to develop feelings for her, which Ava seems to return.
All the time, Nathan is watching, studying, judging. He needles Caleb with the information that Ava has been outfitted with parts to accommodate coupling with a human. Nathan can be charming one minute and bullying the next. His relationship to Ava is somewhat akin to a zookeeper who considers whether the animals were better left in the wild.
It’s an extremely engaging film, though I felt Garland avoided too many risks in his storytelling that could have led to more interesting places, plot-wise. For instance, it’s implied at one point that maybe it’s Caleb himself who is the robot, and this exercise has been his own Turing Test. That would have been a twist, but it becomes the road not taken.
“Ex Machina” is a movie that starts out with boldness and then travels too straight a line for its own good.
Video extras are a bit underwhelming. There’s a making-of featurette, footage of a Q&A with the cast and crew from South by Southwest Festival and eight behind-the-scenes vignettes.