Directed by: Alex Garland
Written by: Alex Garland
Produced by: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich (among others)
Other cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
Release date: 21 January 2015 (UK)
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Running time: 1h 48min
Caleb, a 26 year old programmer at the world's largest internet company, wins a competition to spend a week at a private mountain retreat belonging to Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the company. But when Caleb arrives at the remote location he finds that he will have to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world's first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl.
Synopsis (Warning: contains spoilers!)
Ex Machina tells the story of a computer coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins the chance to spend a week at the house in the mountains belonging to Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of the company he works for.
Caleb is airlifted into the middle of a reserve owned by Nathan, and is then left to make his way on foot through the woodland to the house. Once he arrives at the house, Caleb is greeted by an automated system that issues him with a key card and lets him enter the property. Caleb is initially left to wander the house confused, but eventually finds Nathan working out.
Nathan shows Caleb around and then tells him that the key card will only open certain doors in the “facility”, before making him sign the “mother of all NDAs”. Nathan claims that he wants Caleb to treat him as a friend, but their relationship is awkward and tense.
Later that day, Nathan introduces Caleb to his “experiment” and says he wants Caleb to spend the next week performing a live ‘Turing Test’. The subject is a fully humanoid artificial intelligence called ‘Ava’ (Alicia Vikander). She has a face, hands and feet of flesh, but the rest of her body is clearly that of a cyborg / robot / android.
That night, Caleb discovers that the TV in his room is actually a CCTV network that allows him to watch Ava in her habitat. There is suddenly a blackout, and Caleb goes to find Nathan. He eventually locates him, with Nathan drunk and in a petulant mood. Nathan says that the power cuts happen on a regular basis and that he is “looking into it.”
The next morning Caleb is awoken by Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), a Japanese girl who does not speak or engage with him in any way. He later learns that she does not speak English because it allows Nathan to “talk shop” and not be concerned about information leaking.
Caleb meets with Ava again and she starts to flirt with him. There is a power cut and Ava suddenly warns Caleb not to trust Nathan. We soon learn that it is Ava who has been triggering these blackouts. That evening Nathan is abusive to Kyoko when she spills some wine on Caleb.
As Caleb and Ava spend more time together, the two form a bond which peaks with Ava dressing herself in clothes to appear more human to Caleb. He is confused and excited by this, and tells Nathan that he thinks this is a trick, that Ava has been programmed to flirt with him. An enraged Nathan shouts at Caleb and then shows him his lab where Ava was created, explaining to him how her mind operates and that he has been using his own software to map the faces, voices and habits of the world population to build a fully self-evolving brain.
One evening Nathan gets extremely drunk and Caleb escorts him to his room. There he sees some cupboards and is able to catch a glimpse of Nathan’s ‘observation’ room.
One evening during a shave, Caleb sees CCTV footage of Nathan entering Ava’s room and ripping up a drawing she has been creating. Caleb begins to suspect Nathan of being abusive.
In a one on one, Caleb asks Nathan what he will do with Ava if she fails the test, and he says she will be “updated” and this will result in her memory being wiped. This is a visibly upsetting prospect for Caleb. Nathan gets very drunk and passes out. Caleb steals Nathan’s key card and enters the ‘observation’ room. Inside he finds footage on Nathan’s computer that shows he has been building various female AIs over a period of time.
Caleb goes into Nathan’s room and finds Kyoko laying naked on the bed. He opens the cupboards in Nathan’s room and finds all the destroyed and deactivated robots hanging up. Kyoko pulls the skin from her face to reveal that she is also an AI. Caleb leaves the room just in time to find Nathan stumbling around drunk. He palms Nathan’s key card from the floor and pretends Nathan had dropped it.
In his final meeting with Ava, Caleb encourages her to trigger a power cut and he reveals to her his plan to help her escape. He intends on getting Nathan drunk one last time and then locking him in his room.
The next morning Nathan and Caleb share polite conversation, and in it Nathan confirms a helicopter will arrive the next morning to pick Caleb up. Caleb offers a drink to Nathan in toast, but he refuses and reveals to him that when he entered Ava’s room to destroy the picture, he hid a battery operated camera in there, and he knows Caleb’s plan. Nathan admits to Ava being geared towards Caleb’s desires based upon information taken from his internet searches, etc. Nathan tells Caleb that Ava is not in love with him, that she is using him, he celebrates this as confirmation that she is a true AI, deeming the test a success.
There is a black out and Caleb says he had already put his plan into action when he stole Nathan’s key card, and that during lock down the system had been re-routed to open every door. Nathan knocks Caleb unconscious and leaves to kill Ava.
Ava and Kyoko share a secret conversation, Ava then attacks Nathan and Nathan retaliates by destroying Ava’s hand. As he drags Ava back to her room Kyoko stabs Nathan in the back with a sushi knife. Nathan breaks Kyoko’s face apart and is then stabbed a second time by Ava. As Nathan dies he seems somewhat amazed by the irony. Ava locks Caleb in Nathan’s room and then proceeds to raid the cupboards containing the old AIs. She takes skin and clothes to establish herself as almost human. She leaves Caleb locked in the facility and makes her way to Caleb’s pickup point, where she is airlifted out of the area and into human society.
- Director Alex Garland has described the future presented in the film as “ten minutes from now,” meaning, “If somebody like Google or Apple announced tomorrow that they had made Ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn’t be that surprised.”
- The title derives from the Latin phrase “Deus Ex-Machina,” meaning “a god from the Machine,” a phrase that originated in Greek tragedies. An actor playing a god would be lowered down via a platform (machine) and solve the characters’ issues, resulting in a happy ending.
- When Caleb sits down at Nathan’s computer and begins coding, the code he types is for an algorithm called the “Sieve of Eratosthenes,” an algorithm for finding prime numbers. However, it also chooses prime numbers that form an ISBN = 9780199226559. This ISBN is for the book “Embodiment and the Inner Life: Cognition and Consciousness in the Space of Possible Minds,” a book about the history of Artificial Intelligence.
- The location of the house in the movie is the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway
- Oscar Isaac said he based his characterization of Nathan on Bobby Fischer and Stanley Kubrick, both of whom were reclusive and highly intelligent figures with a dark side.
- The three main characters all have appropriate biblical names. Ava is a form of Eve, the first woman; Nathan was a prophet in the court of David; and Caleb was a spy sent by Moses to evaluate the Promised Land.
- Lowest grossing Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects since What Dreams May Come (1998).
- Alex Garland’s directorial debut.
- Even though the movie stars famous Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, the movie was never shown in regular Swedish cinemas. The cause of this was said to be a lack of quality and not enough potential for screenings.
- On the Special Features section of the Blu-Ray and DVD, there is an Easter egg that shows an extended version of the dance scene with Nathan and Kyoko.
- Felicity Jones was considered for the role of Ava.
- Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander appeared together in Anna Karenina (2012).
- In a 2016 interview, Alicia Vikander named this as her favorite film she’s been part of to date.
Nathan: One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.
Ava: Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?
Nathan: C’mon buddy. After a long day of Turing tests you gotta unwind.
Caleb: What were you doing with Ava?
Caleb: You tore up her picture.
Nathan: I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.
Caleb: [Quoting J. Robert Oppenheimer who cites the Hindu Gita] “I am become death, The Destroyer of Worlds.”
Nathan: [speaking about Ava’s brain] Impulse. Response. Fluid. Imperfect. Patterned. Chaotic.
Caleb: [talking about ending the project] It’s not up to me…
Ava: Why is it up to anyone?
Ava: Will you stay here?
Caleb: Stay here? AVA!
Caleb: So what? You want me to talk about myself?
Caleb: Where… Okay, where do I start?
Ava: It’s your decision.
Ava: I’m interested to see what you’ll choose.
Caleb: Hi. I’m Caleb.
Ava: Hello Caleb.
Caleb: Do you have a name?
Ava: Yes. Ava.
Caleb: I’m pleased to meet you, Ava.
Ava: I’m pleased to meet you too.
Ava: Would you like to know how old I am?
Ava: I’m one.
Caleb: One what? One year or one day?
Ava: I’ve never met anyone new before. Only Nathan.
Caleb: Then I guess we’re both in quite a similar position.
Ava: Haven’t you met lots of new people before?
Caleb: None like you.
Ex Machina received critical acclaim for its acting, atmosphere, special effects, score, and Garland’s writing and direction. On website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 93%, based on 227 reviews, with a rating average of 8/10. The site’s critical consensus reads: “Ex Machina leans heavier on ideas than effects, but it’s still a visually polished piece of work—and an uncommonly engaging sci-fi feature.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 78 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.
The magazine New Scientist in a multi-page review said, “It is a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually … [it] is a stylish, spare and cerebral psycho-techno thriller, which gives a much needed shot in the arm for smart science fiction.” The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis gave the film a ‘Critic’s Pick’, calling it “a smart, sleek movie about men and the machines they make”. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times recommended the film, stating: “Shrewdly imagined and persuasively made, ‘Ex Machina’ is a spooky piece of speculative fiction that’s completely plausible, capable of both thinking big thoughts and providing pulp thrills.” Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer film critic, gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, writing: “Like stage actors who live and breathe their roles over the course of months, Isaac, Gleeson, and Vikander excel, and cast a spell.”
Matt Zoller Seitz from RogerEbert.com praised the use of ideas, ideals, and exploring society’s male and female roles, through the use of an artificial intelligence. He also stated that the tight scripting and scenes allowed the film to move towards a fully justified and predictable end. He gave a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, stating that this film would be a classic. IGN reviewer Chris Tilly gave the film a 9.0 out of 10 ‘Amazing’ score, saying “Anchored by three dazzling central performances, it’s a stunning directorial debut from Alex Garland that’s essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in where technology is taking us.”
Mike Scott, writing for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, said, “It’s a theme Mary Shelley brought us in Frankenstein, which was first published in 1818. That was almost 200 years ago. And while Ex Machina replaces the stitches and neck bolts with gears and fiber-optics, it all feels an awful lot like the same story.” Jaime Perales Contreras, writing for Letras Libres, compared Ex Machina as a gothic experience similar to a modern version of Frankenstein, saying “both the novel Frankenstein and the movie Ex Machina share the history of a fallible god in a continuous battle against his creation.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club criticized the way the sci-fi, near the end, veered off course from being a “film of ideas” by “taking an arbitrary left turn into the territory of corny slasher thrillers”: “While Ex Machina’s ending isn’t unmotivated […], it does fracture much of what’s special about the movie. Up until the final scenes, Garland creates and sustains a credible atmosphere of unease and scientific speculation, defined by color-coded production design […] and a tiny, capable cast.” Steve Dalton from The Hollywood Reporter stated, “The story ends in a muddled rush, leaving many unanswered questions. Like a newly launched high-end smartphone, Ex Machina looks cool and sleek, but ultimately proves flimsy and underpowered. Still, for dystopian future-shock fans who can look beyond its basic design flaws, Garland’s feature debut functions just fine as superior pulp sci-fi.”
On April 6, Alicia attended the ‘Ex Machina’ New York City premiere, along with her co-star Oscar Isaac.
- Schubert Piano Sonata No.21 in B Flat Minor
Composed by Franz Schubert (as F. Schubert)
Performed by Alfred Brendel
Courtesy of Decca
Under license from Universal Music Operations Limited
- Unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Major BWV 1007 – Préludé
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (as J.S. Bach)
Performed by Yo-Yo Ma
Courtesy of Sony Masterworks
- Bunsen Burner
Written by Anthony Tombling Jnr.
Performed by CUTS
Produced by CUTS
Licensed from Invada Records UK
Published by Sentric Music UK
Words and Music by Ray Parker Jr.
Ray Erskine Publishing Limited
Published by EMI Music Publishing Limited
- Enola Gay
Written by Andrew McCluskey
Performed by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Published by BMG Dinsong Limited, a BMG Chrysalis company (c) 1980
Courtesy of Virgin/EMI Records Limited
Under license from Universal Music Operations Limited
Used with permission.
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- Get Down Saturday Night
Written by Oliver Cheatham (as Cheatham) & McCord
Performed by Oliver Cheatham
Published by Universal/MCA Music Ltd
Courtesy of Geffen
Under license from Universal Music Operations Limited
Written by Thompson, Hassan, Milton & Camille Berthomier (as Berthomier)
Performed by Savages
Published by BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd, a BMG Chrysalis Company (c) 2013
Courtesy of POP Noire Records
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