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500 Word Review of Ex Machina

May 4 2015

I love movies. I think what movies you like says a lot about you as a person. One of my favorite things that I’ve done for years now is to go see movies by myself on a weeknight. Some people think seeing movies by yourself is weird, but it is really relaxing. The benefit of doing it on a weeknight is usually you are either the only person in the theater or one of the few. I’ve decided to write a 500 word review for each movie I see to help my writing.

Ex Machina

04/19/2015 10:05 pm

Cinemark West Plano


Ex Machina is Alex Garland’s directorial debut. Who is Alex Garland? Well, he’s one of the best writers of the last decade. He is responsible for The Beach starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio, the classic 28 Days Later , and the underrated Sunshine (watch it; Capa’s Jump is one of the great scenes of cinema), among others. He often teams up with director Danny Boyle, but Machina finally sees him on his own.

What Garland is incredibly skilled at is making settings which are isolated from the world yet the characters within have experiences which reflect on humanity as a whole. Think of the hippie community in Beach, the desolate cities of Days, and the spaceship in Sunshine. Machina is no exception. In fact, Machina may feel more isolated than the others.

The gist of the story is that a young, brilliant programmer, Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (of the very clever About Time and son of Brendan Gleeson), wins a contest to travel to the home of and work with the founder of his company. This man, Nathan, is played by Oscar Isaac, whom we will soon see in Episode VIII, and based on this performance, many other movies. After a long ride, Caleb finally arrives at Nathan’s remote but modern cabin. The contrast between the two men is striking: Caleb is lanky, deferring, and unsure, while Nathan is muscle-bound, dominating and that byword of programmers everywhere, a brogrammer, albeit a brilliant one. After a short introduction (and many requirements), Nathan tells Caleb why he is here: to test the world’s first AI.

The AI, is Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, who starred in A Royal Affair opposite the great Mads Mikkelson. Her ability wasn’t fully apparent to me in that movie, but it is here. She plays the role of a somewhat human, but still alien robot incredibly convincingly. In fact, that is the strength of this movie. Nearly the entire film takes place inside Nathan’s bunker, with few exceptions the only characters are the three mentioned above, and dialogue between them drives much of the action. Without very strong performances, the movie simply would not work. Thankfully, they all are great.

The movie also succeeds on its visuals and a minimalist but incredible soundtrack. Combine these elements and you get to what Machina is really about, and that is a fundamental question about humanity, our abilities and limits, and how carefully we should proceed in our constant quest for advacement. Honestly, I left the theater disliking the movie, not because it wasn’t great, but because it leaves you with such an uneasy feeling. Maybe that’s a good thing. Ex Machina joins a line of moody science movies which challenge the way we think about the world and ourselves. In that light and in scope, it reminds me a lot of psychological space movies like 2001, Solaris, Moon, or the aforementioned Sunshine. If you like sci-fi or movies that make you think, it should not be missed.