Ex Machina

Ex Machina ★★★★

In the last few decades, sci-fi, action and superhero blockbusters have increased in scale and spectacle--but generally speaking, suspense, stakes, and emotional resonance have not increased accordingly. Bigger is not always better in film. A scale too large can become too far removed from anything resembling our lives and any scenario resembling true danger. Bilge Elbiri says supervillains planning worldwide destruction have plans that: “are terrible things to do to the Earth, and to the human race. But they almost never raise my pulse. Because ironically, the more ambitious they get, the less threatening they feel." Kevin Lincoln agrees, and says it best: “Saving the world is such an abstract concept, it’s basically math.”

But saving your own life? Everyone understands that. Immediately. Deeply.

Enter Ex Machina.

A science fiction film with only 4 characters. Set in only 1 house. Caleb, programer for Blue Book search engine, is invited to CEO billionaire Nathan’s house. Caleb participates in a test with Ava, an amazingly advanced artificial intelligence that Nathan has been secretly building. Caleb and Ava talk, listening so closely to each other, that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch. Nathan watches, talks, gets involved, and you have to wonder what his endgame is.

These three people plus the housekeeper Kyoko comprise the entire narrative. By the glorious final scenes of the film, my allegiances shifted multiple times. I felt fear and sympathy for each character. And beyond that, I projected outward from these relationships, to a massive scale: pondering what artificial intelligence means for us, our kids, the earth.

Writer/director Alex Garland keeps the scale manageable, so the narrative and scenario becomes imaginable. And because of that, it’s chilling, suspenseful, and threatening.

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