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Man meets man, and then man meets machine, in Alex Garland’s directorial debut, ‘Ex Machina’

July 3, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 3, 2020

Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s 2014 directorial debut, is a haunting movie about a programmer who’s summoned to a high-tech mogul’s remote mountain mansion to evaluate a robot’s intelligence.

Garland also wrote the picture, his fifth screenplay after the zombie movie 28 Days Later…, the science-fiction movie Sunshine, the Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation Never Let Me Go and the comic-book adaptation Dredd. His novels The Beach and The Tesseract have been made into movies, although not by him. Garland would go on to write and direct the film version of Jeff VanderMeer’s science-fiction novel Annihilation; most recently, he produced, wrote and directed the science-fiction miniseries Devs.

Nearly all of the action in Ex Machina takes place in the isolated modernist mansion of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the brilliant, insanely wealthy head of Bluebook, a search engine and technology firm that’s sort of like Google on steroids. Nathan is a brooding, controlling figure. About a third of the way into the picture, he says that contractors who worked on the mansion were killed on his orders, but he immediately claims to be joking. The remark isn’t funny at all, but it seems very much like the kind of dark humor for which Nathan would like to be known.

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