There is a brilliance to Ex Machina, of that there is no doubt. There is though, a little necessary critiquing, which needs to be done if only to start a debate. You see, if truth be told, I’m unsure if I’m being needlessly harsh and/or overly sensitive in regard to Garland’s work, but I think there is an issue with where it leaves the viewer when the titles roll.
Premise-wise there is nothing to complain about. Isaac’s creepy Nathan, a Zuckerberg-like genius, builds robotic women to further science, and because he can. The film seems to say this reasoning is a pretence and that he’s actually a mad scientist from the Dr. Frankenstein stable with a lavish helping of misogyny thrown in. Fine. His latest model, Vikander’s Ava, is so real he decides to Turing test it on the, at first, unsuspecting nice guy, Caleb, played by Gleeson. This is then all set in the wonderful isolation of Nathan’s stunning home-cum-lab placed in the most beautiful and remote scenery nature has to offer.
Between the characters the tension is superb, the conflict and unease of who is in control at any moment is an ongoing tooth and nail tussle present in every exchange. However, as things progress, and unravel, and the audience is thrown over the precipice of the climax there was an unease within me about what the film was saying.
It is difficult not to ruin the ending in continuing this discourse, but be assured this is a discussion for those that have seen the film, so stop reading now if you haven’t.
There is overall, in the plot and theme of the movie, a reduction to the notion that males need females, and do so on a spectrum that starts at ‘not that healthy’ and slides to ‘very unhealthy’ in how this desire manifests. It is a spectrum clearly represented by Nathan and Caleb. As for women, the film shows that they have no place being controlled by the whim of males, essentially the dysfunctional half of the human race, but that their only ‘out’ is to exploit them. Especially if you look like Alicia Vikander. The film seems to be saying there can be no positive and equally beneficial relationship between man and woman. It’s a dark, dark stance to take.
In many ways this is all well and good as a crux on which to build a narrative. It’s a sort of extended examination of the ‘battle of the sexes’ and equally (and somewhat ironically seeing as we’re talking about robots) ‘natural selection’. This is coupled with, in the case of the male characters most overtly, the conflict of super-ego, ego and id. It then undercuts itself dramatically.
Ava is free, but depicted as being entirely driven by aesthetics, her desire for flawless skin is a majestic sequence, as the soft whirs of her mechanics are shown and covered with a reverence. But what is one meant to make of this desire to fit in, appear attractive and meld with the pre-requisites of the male gaze. Her final outfit is a sham. A virginal white dress, that is fiercely stylish and sexy, coupled with, presumably just what she always wanted, a pair of white four and half inch killer heels. It appears a bizarre choice in the context of the character and by extension the filmmakers; it left me perplexed.
Hell, maybe Ava is simply just the grim outcome of a solely male and reductive notion of what females should be…
This is though a fantastic film. It’s scintillating science-fiction with some serious kink to what plays out. A thought provoker; not only its content, but how and why that content is delivered the way it is. You can’t ask for more.
Finally, I’m going to end by mentioning a sequence we can all agree is out of this world good; the dance scene.