The idea of artificial intelligence has been a mainstay in science-fiction for decades, but modern technologies have actually made this concept a distinct possibility. We talk to programmed personalities on our phones and those personalities are often smart enough to respond back to us. The idea of pure artificial intelligence does not seem that far off and it’s expertly explored in the realistic sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina. In his directorial debut, writer/director Alex Garland has crafted a believable fable and filled it with three ultra-interesting main characters. It’s a film that favors ideas and conversations over action and spectacle. The ideas and themes that it ultimately manages to unsurface aren’t particularly revealing, but they are undeniably interesting. Don’t let this unique thriller pass you by.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young computer programmer, working for a Google-esque company named BlueBook. After winning a companywide lottery, Caleb is chosen to visit the company’s founder, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), at his secluded home/research facility. Upon his arrival, Caleb is informed that Nathan has been working on creating a form of artificial intelligence and he wants Caleb to test its effectiveness. Caleb is then introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander) a human looking android with advanced speech and thinking capabilities. Caleb enjoys his time with Ava and the two begin to form a bond together, which Nathan observes from a distance. But Ava secretly informs Caleb that Nathan cannot be trusted and Caleb is forced to decide where his allegiance lies.

What’s most striking about Ex Machina is how everything feels like it could legitimately be happening at this moment. We’ve always looked at artificial intelligence as something in our future, but we’re getting closer and closer to making it a part of our present. Garland knows this and he makes sure that the film stays grounded, both in its scenarios and its characters. Ava feels like she genuinely could exist. Her face is ultrarealistic, but the way that she moves and talks shows that she’s not quite human. But that doesn’t mean that she’s not convincing. Vikander is great as Ava, somehow making a robot seem genuinely real and very alluring. The film is broken up into several different sessions that Caleb spends with Ava and each session is more interesting than the last. It’s great to watch these two characters try to figure the other one out and it’s easy to understand why Caleb would fall in love with her.

But perhaps the most interesting conversations occur between Caleb and Nathan. When we’re first introduced to Nathan, it’s surprising how laid back he is. He drinks too much, doesn’t like speaking in scientific jargon and usually prefers to have a good time instead of further formulating his ideas. This is supposed to be the genius billionaire that created artificial intelligence? But as Caleb and Nathan spend more time getting to know one another, Nathan’s situation and personality begins to make more sense. He practically lives alone with more money than anyone could ever spend, but with no one to enjoy it with. We also get to see some brief moments of his genius slip through his playboy persona. When Caleb asks Nathan why he chose to give Ava a sex, Nathan responds that sex is a vital part of life and removing that from an android would ruin its chance at reaching true intelligence. It’s moments like these where we can understand how a goofball like Nathan could create something so monumental. And Isaac is absolutely fantastic in the role, crafting his character with idiosyncrasies and a laid-back personality that very few actors could pull off so effortlessly.

Garland and cinematographer Rob Hardy give the film a sleek, modern look that fits nicely into the realistic sci-fi setting. Production design is topnotch, with every room in Nathan’s home feeling unique and interesting. Outside of Nathan’s home, the Norwegian countryside is put on display and it’s a truly beautiful sight to behold. Although the third act features some predictable reveals and a few too many twists and turns, Ex Machina  is an engrossing sci-fi thriller from start to finish.  It will be interesting to see if the future ends up elevating some these science-fiction ideas into science-fact. But until artificial intelligence becomes a reality, I’ll settle for the sexy and intriguing Ava.

Ex Machina receives 3.5/4

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