There is very little new in the world of cinema, with every movie seeming like a rehash of something else. So, it’s nice when a story at least reaches back far enough that I can tag Ovid as inspiration, or Mary Shelley. Both Pygmalion and Frankenstein are done to death, but when they are done well, you know you’re getting a quality narrative. Ex Machina is both done well at once.
Domnhall Gleeson stars as Caleb, your run of the mill programmer, seemingly selected at random to visit with his boss, a Hughes-ian billionaire, tech-genius-recluse, Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac. Once I’d suspended my disbelief, made it past all the hyphenates and exposition required to set the stage (Genius Nathan has selected Caleb to come and be the human interface in a Turing Test for his AI prototype), I was all in. That’s about the time Alicia Vikander was introduced as Ava, the AI.
Alicia Vikander as Ava, in Ex Machina.
It would be impossible for me to tell more of the story without spoiling the twists, which play out more as long, slow curves in this quietly paced, richly filmed movie. What I will tell you is that there is a sequence that will go down in my mental history as the weirdest, best, most horrifying dance number I’ve ever seen–for about twenty different reasons.
If you enjoy food for thought, you’ll have a veritable buffet of topics to consider, ranging from what makes us human, to what constitutes consent. If you just like to look at pretty things, you’ll do equally as well. Vikander is luminous. It takes quite a face to make a bald robot head look pretty.
Even a quarter of the way through, I was feeling anxiety and empathy for the characters–all the characters. Even the one who never spoke. All the anxiety, and about half the empathy turned out to be for good cause. The rest of my empathy? It would spoil the movie to tell you what I walked out wondering, so I won’t.
At 108 minutes, it felt like really short, but it was perfectly timed. No scenes felt wasted, and nothing dragged on. It was just right.
It’s rated R for full frontal nudity, though that was presented in such a way that it didn’t even feel like I was looking at boobies, and for mild violence. I only hid my eyes once.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
-0.5 because I hated Isaac’s beard so much.