Alex Garland's brilliant, richly textured new “Ex Machina” is among the rare science fiction movies that are intelligent yet emotional, technological yet human, and timely yet timeless.
It tells the story of a young coder (Domhnall Gleeson) who is chosen to visit the wealthy, reclusive creator (Oscar Isaac) of a massive search engine, and finds himself helping test an astounding and beautiful new robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander).
His interactions with this new artificial intelligence grow increasingly complex, and dangerous.
Garland, recently in The City to promote the film, his directorial debut, says he believes A.I.s likely will arrive at some point: “They probably won't be like us,” he says. “They won't have minds like us, and they will see the world in a different way, and they will interpret things in a different way, and relationships will mean something else.”
The movie's real achievement is Ava, a combination of amazing visual effects and acting. Though he created the character on paper, Garland credits her successful materialization to a large group, starting with Vikander.
“She arrived with an idea that she wasn't going to do anything robotic in her actions. Instead she was only going to do human actions, but she was going to do them perfectly. And because we don't do them perfectly, it would feel odd,” he says.
Visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst and his team went above and beyond their contractual duty, Garland adds. For example, Whitehurst added woven plastic strips inside Ava's body to make the way the light touches the character particularly mysterious.
Garland has nothing but respect for the rest of the cast. He worked with Gleeson before, and the two are friends. Garland simply called him.
And Garland admired Isaac's performances in earlier films. “Watching him on set is like watching theater. You can get so caught up. I would stop thinking of all the things I ought to have been thinking about. I would watch him and it would be over, and I'd say cut, and I'd have to say something.”
While “Ex Machina” represents a magnificent directorial debut, Garland isn’t new to the art world, being a well-established novelist (“The Beach”) and screenwriter (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine,” “Never Let Me Go,” “Dredd”).
“I didn't make the film… I'm not an auteur,” he says. “I worked with a huge bunch of people. And a lot of those people I've worked with before. And it's not like I'm just out of film school. I've been around the block, as it were.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander
Written and directed by: Alex Garland
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes