Alicia Vikander stars as Ava in writer/director Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina.’
The world is an evolving place. Ideals change and the way we approach life with it. While this film doesn’t tackle ideas that have an overarching effect on the planet and everyone in it, the concept is one that is deeply personal and works as a mirror to the viewer taking it in. Much like Ava when she turns her head to face the camera that Caleb is watching her from, this feeling over breaking the fourth wall and questioning our own state is what makes Ex Machina both so brilliant and so terrifying.
The film, written and directed by Alex Garland, is an examination of male insecurity. This is personified by Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who is the winner of a lottery at the company he works at. This lottery earns him a ticket to visit his reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), and spend a week with him.
Once arriving at his uber-futuristic house, it is revealed to Caleb that he is also here to take part in an experiment that Nathan is working on and that he was brought here to interact with his latest project — an artificially intelligent robot.
The robot, named Ava (Alicia Vikander), is a spitting image of how Garland makes the film — sleek, sexy, and smart. She does what you would expect from an A.I., but there is something that Vikander brings to the role and this sly sexuality seeps over into the overall performance. It is subtle at times, but is so strong, whether it is during her conversations with Caleb, his live look-ins while she works, or the small expressions that she makes around him.
Garland frames the movie almost like a science fiction, Terminator-esque rom-com between Ava and Caleb and the fact that as he does session after session, and his affection begins to grow, builds with tension like a horror movie and grows to the ultimate moment with him in the bathroom before the finale takes place. This internalized tension is so well done and so frightening, it doesn’t ever need the big scares to make you fear it.
But that never makes the film a horror film. Or at least not outright. Instead, it is full sci-fi and is more about us fearing the unknown “out there” and inside our own mind. The fear that stems in Ex Machina is not always outright. The fear is in the moments when Caleb struggles to figure out if Ava truly likes him or if she is doing this in order to gain something or because Nathan programmed her that way.
It is scary in the moments when he struggles with his own reality and must figure out what is happening around him with an unhinged billionaire dancing (amazingly I might add) in front of him.
Garland keeps the story tight and allows the viewers to grow fearful through their own minds and ideas instead of implanting them on us. But maybe that is what he wants — maybe like Ava and Nathan, he is pushing something on us that we don’t fully believe or are afraid to accept. This idea that maybe, deep down, someone doesn’t truly love us and it could all be a charade in order to move to something bigger and better.
Ex Machina is never an outright horror film, instead it is an outright sci-fi film that creates fear in the minds of the people watching it. Maybe that is a testament to your own will and insecurity, but that’s the point and the one that Nathan makes with Caleb. It is about the fear of abandonment, and most importantly, the fear that as men there is a chance that maybe not every girl wants you and that she may have an ulterior motive.
Or just the fact that she just isn’t that into you.