Alex Garland has spent the last decade or so carving a name for himself as a screenwriter of intelligent, inventive science fiction, from his original screenplays of 28 Days Later and Sunshine to his adaptations of Never Let Me Go and Dredd. It’s therefore little surprise to see him tackle the issue of artificial intelligence, though this time he steps behind the camera as well to make his directorial debut. His writing here is just as robust as ever (strongly-etched characters, layers of subtext and metaphor, and an interesting preoccupation with isolated, trapped spaces), but as a director he’s something of a revelation – a suitably cold and detached eye for stark visual design and clinical, carefully-chosen compositions. This combination of great ideas and arresting aesthetic makes for one of the best serious science fiction films in recent memory.

It’s all very well to play off the idea of robots becoming sentient for cheap thrills or a dumb action movie, but this is not that sort of film. The “science” in its sci-fi is pretty solid – it asks genuine questions about what would honestly constitute artificial intelligence and how we should subsequently treat such a thing. That said, this isn’t a boring lecture either – Garland fully appreciates how cool these things can look in the flesh, and peppers the film with some dazzling special effects that aren’t loud or flashy but just quietly mesmerising. He also makes points about technology in general, and the dangers of where it might be taking us with a world of online interconnected lives. The icing on the cake is an unexpectedly powerful feminist conclusion, which highlights the film’s forward-thinking and truly progressive intellect.

EX MACHINA
Intelligent, adult science fiction which takes its ideas and themes seriously8
Alex Garland, the science fiction screenwriter8
Alex Garland, the science fiction director9
A strong visual design aesthetic, including some subtle but brilliant special effects8
A brave and oddly beautiful feminist ending9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • The one conversation between two female character is not heard by the viewer, and I get the feeling it is about a man
  • There are female-looking robots in the film, which I am classifying as female characters
8Overall Score

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