A close quarters sci-fi mystery that locks three characters – an A.I. Machine Ava (Alicia Vikander), her/its creator Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and a nerd Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), all in an isolated modern and luxurious complex in Norway for one week (at least, that is where the location shots were filmed at any rate), where the visiting competition winner Caleb will administer the Turing test in order to determine whether or not Nathan has successfully created an android convincing enough to pass for human (for more on Turing, see ‘The Imitation Game‘). It is slow and some of the delivery is equally drawn out and annoying (mainly from Gleeson) and it does meander for a long time but ultimately the plot delivers a satisfying conclusion via smart mechanics with a few nuggets of intellectual fodder strewn around to chew on (like the brief mention of the theory that we don’t really learn language, we already ‘know’ it and just learn to map words around it, interesting) and insights into the conditions of life and survival which are both understated and yet ubiquitous, rounding off the film nicely.
There’s no real action here, which caused a palpable sense of restlessness in the audience who I think may have been expecting something more akin to the explosions and effects of the likes of ‘I, Robot’ (04) – there were lots of gingerly delves into bags of popcorn throughout the predominantly conversational structure of the film. The acting is good from all three leads, perhaps most of all from Vikander who has less lines than the other two but who never flinches in her ethereal portrayal of Ava, and the screenplay is itself constantly aware of what the audience is likely to guess is going on, immediately introducing that concept in the next conversation and dashing it as a conclusion. A sense of claustrophobia and menace is created in the complex, especially under the frequent power outages, and there was a lot of potential to really turn the screw on that which may have delivered some much needed punch at various points, but nevertheless author (‘The Beach’ 96), screenwriter (’28 Days Later’ 02, ‘Sunshine’ 07, ‘Never Let Me Go’ 10) and first time director Alex Garland has created a polished and clever science fiction drama that stands proudly within a genre fairly overcrowded with A.I.
The title is pronounced ‘ex makuhnuh’ and comes from the phrase ‘deus ex machina’, which literally translates as ‘god from a/the machine’ and is used to term the introduction in fiction of some godly or outlandish solution to a problem, a fudge if you will, referencing plays of old when a statue of a god would be mechanically made to appear on stage and perform whatever service was required of it to save the protagonist’s bacon.