Start with Frankenstein and work forward. Movie makers have long been fascinated with humans creating life. In the movies, this creation stretches from life made from the body parts of dead people, to cloning, to computers, to artificial life-like androids.
Most start packed with promise but ultimately disappoint. Once in awhile — however — a filmmaker gives us a gem. Writer/director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is one.
Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) and Alicia Vikander star. Isaac’s ( Inside Llewyn Davis) Nathan is the billionaire creator of a Google-like browser. Gleeson ( About Time) is his employee Caleb, and Vikander ( Seventh Son) is the android Ava.
Nathan — in Frankenstein fashion — dabbles in artificial life. His laboratory is in a deep mountain wilderness. It’s almost impossible to reach, and in that isolation, he creates Ava. She’s drop dead gorgeous but looks more like a machine than human.
Nathan brings Caleb to the retreat to see how he and Ava interact and to have him determine if she’s self-aware or not. There are tests she must pass to be validated as actual life.
Isaac is terrific as the paranoid, alcoholic Nathan. The signs are all there. Implosion is imminent. It’s just a matter of time before it all collapses and violence results. The wait is excruciating.
Part of the tension is because Isaac is so good. The malevolence oozes from the top of his almost shaved head to the bottom of his overly thick beard. You worry about the naive Caleb and his new, fascinating and beautiful friend, the artificial life form Ava.
Both are trapped, both are victims and Gleeson and Vikander play it perfectly.
Even more perfectly played is Alex Garland’s movie. That’s not surprising. He has proved to be a master storyteller. Garland penned 28 Days Later and the very disturbing cloning flick, Never Let Me Go. The latter is a field day for those wanting to debate the use of clones for medical purposes. Garland does just as good a job with Ex Machina. This debate ends as a high-octane, artificial life love story that is anything but artificial.
Garland also does a brilliant job with the special effects from Ava’s design to Nathan’s hewn-out-of-rock laboratory. They are as unique and as interesting as Garland’s original plot.