A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
THE REVIEW: I heard a lot of hype going into Ex Machina and seeing the trailers only served to increase my excitement. Now having seen it, I can say the film certainly lives up to the high bar that was set. Ex Machina isn’t just a great science-fiction film with artificial intelligence and possible outlooks on our future, it is also a mysterious, thrilling, and sensational piece of filmmaking. And while the end credits left me shocked and mostly speechless, trying to put thoughts to what I just watched, it didn’t take long for me to translate that shock into a big smile and joy for having just seen an incredible film.
There’s a lot to commend about this film, but perhaps what I enjoyed most about Ex Machina was the editing. Editing can accomplish many things in a film, many of which have subconscious effects on the viewer. Something that editor Mark Day perfects in this film is pacing. The pace of a film can greatly affect everything else. Take a recent example of Tomorrowland for example. The pacing in that film was extremely slow which most likely served to amplify other problems in the film and story and as a result, decreased my enjoyment of the film. In Ex Machina, there is a wonderful balance between fast and slow, masterfully crafted to create the main reason Ex Machina succeeds: tension.
Editing plays a large part in creating that tension, often times in ways that stand out. Usually, when you think of a good edit, it’s invisible to the average viewer and passes in the blink of an eye. If a cut stands out and is noticed, that’s usually a bad sign. For Ex Machina though, I’d argue the opposite. Fairly quickly, once inside of Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) estate, you notice long pauses, static shots, and stretches of time with characters just staring at each other. I feel this is a deliberate choice, and a smart one by Day and director Alex Garland. Noticing the pauses and stretches of silence is uncomfortable and awkward. It puts you on edge, not knowing what to expect, because time seems to have slowed down. Why isn’t so-and-so reacting to what was just said? What could this character be thinking right now? This creates a very unsettling atmosphere and one which allows individual performances stand out and take the film to the next level.
Of course, it’s not just the editing that makes Ex Machina great. The story is filled with twists and turns, unexpected developments that keep you constantly guessing, and a foundation in a realistic future. As Nathan says in the film, artificial intelligence isn’t a question of “if” but “when”. It’s scary enough to think that this technology may only be a few decades away, let alone all the ethical, moral, and philosophical questions and situations that come with it. Much like Her did with relationships and love, Ex Machina takes a similar segment of tech but gives it a darker spin. Whereas Her is lighthearted and fun, Ex Machina is downright scary and terrifying.
Ava (Alicia Vikander) is a great example of how big a role the performances play in supplementing the editing and writing. Vikander’s performance is cold and distant; very robotic and unemotional in a certain sense. On the other hand, she also conveys a very warm and human side. There’s a very fine line between human and AI with respect to Ava — it is the whole reason Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is brought in, to see if she passes the Turing test — and Vikander walks along it with ease. The line could also be defined in Ex Machina as a line between trust and betrayal or real and fake. Are her non-human actions really non-human, or is it all just a ploy to trick Caleb into thinking a certain way?
THE TAKEAWAY: Ex Machina easily is my favorite film so far in 2015. It works on so many levels from a conscious awareness (performances by Vikander and Isaac) to unconscious manipulation (feeling uncomfortable as a result of editing and pacing). The story quickly draws you in and keeps you at the edge of the seat all the way through the credits. It is no average mystery or thriller film and many of the answers you receive aren’t even possible scenarios that cross your mind. You will be amazed, surprised, and engrossed in Ex Machina for the duration of the film and will come away both entertained as well as scared for what implications this may have on future technological developments. And while this may be a long shot, given the film was released in the non awards-friendly month of April, I would like to go out on a limb and choose this as an preliminary nominee for Best Editing at the Oscars.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5