When you put an intriguing and loaded title on a movie, how can you not consider it at the top since it is presented to you before you even see a single frame?
While evocative on its own, Ex Machina is a shortening of Deus ex Machina, a phrase that may not be common to many but immediately resonates for those who have studied old literature and theatre. It references the concept of pushing a plot into such a corner that it is the gods that come down and fix or resolve everything at the end because man is too weak or fail-able. But the choice also purposefully evokes images of gears and crafted levers (which were often how those gods were lowered onto stage and why the phrase came into use).
These ideas were clearly the leaping off point for writer/director Garland in his directorial debut. And he ran with them. Clever writing is not new for Garland. Previously he had delivered 28 Days Later…, Never Let Me Go, Dredd, and even the flawed, but beautifully filmed, Sunshine. Ex Machina shows he continues to treat his audience with the intelligence he would like to see in the world, even if he is also a pessimist about our chances.
But clever scripting doesn’t work without actors who can handle the language and make it work. Gleeson (Frank) leads the cast with a sense of a well-educated and guileless youth; think geek chic with a bit more common sense and hygiene. The object of his desire is Vikander (Seventh Son) as the titular machina. Her facility with the subtleties of the situation are impressive. As the third main character in this tripartite drama, Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) plays his tech CEO like some amalgam of Steve Jobs, Jerry Garcia, and Charlie Manson. It works and he is consistent, but I did find him a little hard to accept more than once. Then again, folks with that much money and power tend to go a bit strange.
Most importantly, after the film is done, you will start to revisit and rethink the plot and character choices. Despite working some very well tread ground (didn’t I just cover Eva, Advantageous, and Terminator in the last couple weeks?), Garland provides you threads and ideas that demand your attention in the moment as well as in retrospect. It just isn’t as simple as it all seems.
If you need an indication of the impact and following for this film, after seriously surprising at the boxoffice, it is still going strong in VOD. Make time for Ex Machina. it isn’t the best film of the ages, but it is solid, beautifully filmed and created, and won’t leave you wondering why you invested the time.