"One day the AI's will look back on us the same way we look at fossils."
Yesterday I reviewed A Most Violent Year, a terrific film starring Oscar Isaac. This Science Fiction thriller from the writer of Sunshine and 28 Days Later is naturally very different from the 1980s crime epic, apart from two things, can you guess what?
IT drone Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a prize to spend a week with his genius and isolated boss Nathan (Isaac) in his technology filled mountain retreat. But upon he arrival Nathan wants Caleb to study and assess a form of artificial intelligence. But as time passes Natahn begins to wonder if his AI can truly be alive.
It has never been beyond the science fiction genre to address to issue of AI, Kubrick did it back in the 60s with HAL and ever since we’ve been a bit spoilt for that area. But I don’t think it’s ever looked quite as good as this. Swedish actor Alicia Vikander brings a frighteningly human and eerily distant element to the AI concept not seen since Spielberg’s child perception of it in 2001, or going back even further the Scott’s Blade Runner. The machine’s writing and portrayal gives us a character that’s human enough to draw our emotions, but mechanical enough to make us question it.
Though the writer of 28 Days Later might make a good, all action film, here we see Alex Garland’s ability to craft engrossing conversations, as Caleb and Ava (the AI) start their introduction playfully, but soon delve into more philosophical subjects. Similarly Nathan’s input is also exceptional as the riveting dialogue kept me hooked throughout.
This dialogue, and the film in general, is really given the best attention by Gleeson and soon to be Star Wars co-star Isaac. While Isaac’s character gives us a sharp, sociopathic and creationist feel to it there’s still a scrap of humanity left there because of course, that is the main difference between him and his creation. There’s an aggressive side to this character and the desperate need for assurance and approval, either from himself or others, in this case Caleb.
Domnhall Gleeson has been in two recent films in which he plays the supporter in one sense (for Frank he was the follower of a masked musician played by Michael Fassbender) in this case he’s second to a marvellous machine. But In another sense he is absolutely to lead of both films. He is the emotional connection for me and never loses his own character against larger personalities that may appear to be funnier and more interesting initially, but each time Gleeson makes you care for his character more. That takes talent.
It is always refreshing to see a Science Fiction story done seriously and for grown-ups. I love family favourites like ET but there’s such a great gritty galore to films like this. The more serious age range allows Garland to craft a real psychological thriller worthy of Fincher of even Hitchcock, It does feel like the kind of science fiction film either of them would be intrigued to make. But here Garland has stuck to his own project and has not only made an exceptional directing debut, but probably his best work of writing as well.
The small scale of the film doesn’t hold it back either. The attention to detail and stylish set pieces only assist the futuristic mood to the plot and as it delves deeper into the thriller zone the claustrophobic nature of the backdrop really starts to act as an advantage. The technology on display here, particularly the look of Ava, is understated yet beautiful in its own way. The sleek look of it plus the symphony of mechanical noises that all work to make it strikingly natural in one light, and completely unnatural for another.
Harking back to the days of Blade Runner but minimalizing and modernising the classic tales of robot romance and adding in a touch of psyche thrills, Ex Machina is an immensely interesting example of AI for the 21st century.