DVD review: Alex Garland's Ex Machina - man, machine and mortality

Mathew Scott

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm

Ex Machina is one of the year's most welcome surprises, although it really shouldn't have been given first-time director Alex Garland has previous form with books (The Beach) and screenplays (28 Days Later), showing a talent for storytelling and an ability to stretch his concepts to the limits of the imagination.

Here we are in artificial intelligence territory with a young computer wizard (Domhnall Gleeson) picked to spend time with a genius CEO (Oscar Isaac) as he tests the result of his latest experiment. That it comes in the form of Alicia Vikander as the robot Ava certainly helps stoke the dweeb's interest and there are a series of engaging and insightful exchanges between the pair.

The plan is that the kid's natural curiosity and questions will help reveal how much the creation relies on programming and how much it has developed on its own.

As with other films that have tackled this concept before - the replicants of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner are one case among many - we are steered towards pondering the meaning of perfection, of mortality, of "being". It's thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff, made all the more engaging by its three leads and how they fully flesh out characters both human and not.

Isaac is now the go-to guy when a filmmaker wants a brooder (think of his character as a future version of the failed folk singer from Inside Llewyn Davis, only much smarter), while Gleeson continues to emerge from Harry Potter's shadows and widen his range.

But the real find is Vikander, the one-time dancer who filmmakers now can't get enough of - she appears in seven films being released this year. She adds just the right touch of humanity to this creation, capturing - and holding - everyone's attention with a slight twitch of her head as she ponders her fate (and, perhaps, that of those who manipulate her), revealing how far developed she really is.

It's a slow burn from start to finish, and we are given time enough to savour the experience.

Extras: Through the Looking Glass: Creating Ex Machina featurette; SXSW Q&A with cast and crew; eight behind-the-scenes vignettes.

Ex Machina  Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander Director: Alex Garland