The story centres on Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an exceptional programmer working for Bluebook (the movie’s version of Google), who wins a competition to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Bluebook’s eccentric and reclusive CEO. Once Caleb arrives at Nathan’s Alaskan subterranean abode, he soon finds that he has been selected to take part in a Turing Test that pits Caleb against the billionaire’s pièce de résistance, Ava, a robot housing the world’s first true artificial intelligence. Adding another level of complication to the test is the fact that Ava exudes an aura of sensuality with her beautiful face and body that exposes much of her inner machinery and yet manages to convey the very essence of femininity.
The entire movie is a slow build, with layer upon layer being added to the story. The audience, much like Caleb, are in the dark about the true motivations of Nathan and even Ava. There is something sinister about Isaac’s character as he shifts in personality, almost exhibiting a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Isaac brings a great performance to the role, one minute making the character likable, yet narcissistic and a bit off-centre. He’s got a dance sequence in the movie that comes out of nowhere that you have to see to believe. However, at the flip of a switch Isaac also portrays Nathan with very dark and brooding undertones, making you worry for Caleb’s well-being.
Caleb’s question and answer sessions with Ava make up a big part of the movie, letting us see the relationship build between the two characters, developing into a type of cat and mouse game, with the participants not sure who’s testing who. Ava initially seems very childlike and almost scared of Caleb, but she too has an intensity to her that makes you wonder whether her behaviour is merely a facade for something more sinister.
The film is very minimalist, with Nathan’s dwelling very sparse and modern in its decor, the austere white accentuated with pops of colour here and there, which is quite in contrast with the surrounding Alaskan countryside, which is vibrant and just abundant in natural beauty. A great juxtaposition of nature vs man in his attempt to create life in the form of AI. Speaking of which, the design of Ava herself is a work of art amalgamating nature with technology, the natural curves of her form giving her an organic feel mixed with the high-tech circuitry and hydraulics visible through the mesh that makes up much of her body.
In my opinion, the film’s greatest strength is slow ratcheting up of the tension, the tone changing from a simple sci-fi story into a tale of horror, where we don’t know who is manipulating who and frankly whether anyone is worth rooting for. It is a refreshing change of pace in time where most other movies feel like a million explosions a minute is the only way to drive the story ahead.
That being said, the pace of the film may be a turn off for some, as this is more of a psychological thriller, delving into questions about what really makes us human rather than a fast-paced action flick.
I found the movie quite an enjoyable experience and if you would like to see something a little more thought-provoking than the usual fare, I recommend you check it out.
I give Ex Machina a 9 out of 10.