I very much enjoyed “Ex Machina“. Is it perfect? No. Was I satisfied with the ending? Not really. But in these days of effects-ridden sci-fi excess, it is refreshing as a big-concept hard SF head trip – the depth and value of its ideas far outweigh its missteps. I was kept in uncertainty and anticipation throughout, constantly trying to figure out the underlying truth in the multi-layered conversations taking place.
The film discusses fascinating and engaging questions, both narrowly in characters’ conversations and broader in its overall themes. What does it mean to “know” something, or someone? Do we ever truly understand the motivations and truths of those around us? Can we make free choices, or are we in fact bound by nature’s “programming”, just as machines are to ours? And, ultimately: what does it mean to have intelligence? Not many films can adeptly navigate these difficult (and unanswerable) questions, but Ex Machina manages to with intrigue and style.
Added to these big ideas is a stunning display of visual juxtaposition. The stark and claustrophobic corridors of the Nathan’s home/lab/prison are put at odds with the vastness and beauty of its surroundings (the film was mostly shot in Norway). This blunt differentiation of in versus out jarringly and very effectively compounds the films’ head games. As a microcosm of the locale, even Ava’s body itself is a juxtaposition, with the beauty of her face and the feminine curves of her body distinctly contrasting with its blatantly mechanical nature.
…Which leads me to my main criticism. There are some scenes and tropes interpretable as sexist, and I’m waffling whether or not I fully agree. Yes, scenes like Nathan describing the design and programming of his machine to experience a “pleasure feedback” from a man invite uncomfortable connotations. And yes, there is potentially excessive lingering on the nude female form. But I think the majority (not all) of these moments do richen and deepen the overall themes of humanity and intelligence, and shouldn’t necessarily be met with bristled backs. (I’m curious what other people who have seen the movie think about this point).
Overall, Ex Machina was excellently thought out, well-acted, and well-delivered. I would recommend it to anybody looking for a deeper look at the mind, humanity, and life. But don’t sit back and expect a satisfying conclusion – try to think three steps ahead and enjoy the richness of the journey.