In Ex Machina, it is too simple to ask ourselves if a man is falling in love with a robot, though she is a remarkable and beautiful work of machinery. However, does the fact that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a human, flawed, heterosexual male cloud his judgement when Ava (Alicia Vikander) confides in him so earnestly while her creator seems like such a heartless monster? I highly suggest watching Ex Machina to find out all the fantastic twists and mysteries this wonderfully crafted film holds.
The film starts when Caleb, a lowly computer programmer, wins a contest to fly out to Nathan’s (Oscar Issac) estate for a week to test a new experimental work of artificial intelligence. The goal is to see if Caleb can believe that the subject, Ava (Alicia Vikander) could be mistaken as human. Over the week, Caleb is put in a little glass booth in Ava’s room and the two converse between the glass. All around are cameras, with Nathan watching Caleb interact with his creation.
As the week wears on, Ava and Caleb seem more and more drawn to each other. They discuss where they would go on a date and Ava bashfully surprises Caleb by putting on a dress and wig to cover up her obviously robotic parts. Ava also triggers power outages, moments where the cameras are down and out of Nathan’s view. During the outages she begins to confide in Caleb that she fears Nathan and warns Caleb not to trust him.
Nathan’s quiet dominance grows heavier and eerier throughout the film. When Caleb shows up at his estate, Nathan is hungover. He continues to drink throughout the week getting belligerent and passing out multiple times. But he also lets Caleb know he is smarter than him and in just a glance, we know he is much stronger too. He lifts some weights and does impressive sit ups to prove it.
Ex Machina feels like a modern version of a lonely Frankenstein and his monster. Apart from Nathan’s young, beautiful servant (Sonoya Mizuno), who conveniently doesn’t speak English, there is only Nathan, Ava and now Caleb in the vast secluded estate. It’s no wonder Nathan regularly binge drinks, has created a revolutionary A.I and has muscles on top of his muscles. With not much to do and no one to talk to, what genius meat-head wouldn’t build robotic women?
As Caleb’s week with Nathan wears on, the film feels tense and claustrophobic, mirroring Caleb’s emotions. The room Nathan gives him has no windows and while technologically advanced, feels spartan. The way Nathan asks Caleb about Ava is almost hostile at times, and when Caleb decides to hide the unsavory things Ava has said about Nathan, the conflict rises.
I was very disappointed that Ex Machina was counted out of the Best Picture race. From the nominees I’ve seen so far this year (The Martian, The Revenant, The Big Short, Spotlight and Mad Max: Fury Road) I believe that Ex Machina is just as well done and tells a great story. I guess the Academy voters simply were not as impressed as I was. I also hoped Vikander would snag a supporting nomination for her role as Ava, but alas, she did not. At least the film got two Oscar nominations, for best original screenplay and best visual effects.
Honestly, there hasn’t been this much sexual tension between man and robot on film since Her. But Ex Machina is different, it’s a suspenseful, intelligent and thrilling sci-fi film. Ava is different, she’s intelligent, captivating and can be seen as a damsel in distress. She was created by Nathan to be as real as possible, even physically. Perhaps she has feelings, feelings for Caleb, for freedom, to be a real woman in out in the world. Even so, inside she is still wires, gears and microchips. The mystery is wondering if there is more.
“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”