The Imit atio n Game
Exploring the world of Ex_ Machina
1 Nathan’s sterile home come research facility is located among stunning surroundings – a very deliberate choice according to Garland. “That was a conscious juxtaposition between this very controlled environment that is actually getting out of control and the fractal wildness of the world outside. I wanted it to be set where there weren’t other people around so it had an Eden- like quality. She’s called Ava for a reason!”
2 Extensive visual effects were used to bring Ava to life, but Vikander’s performance was the crucial foundation says Garland. “She’s a ballet dancer and has incredible control over her body, and that became an important part of the performance because you wanted her to be slightly inhuman, but not in way that telegraphed it too much. Not clunky robot movements, but something which was precise but very graceful.”
Land Of The Free
3 Ex_ Machina is a British production, but there’s a good reason it’s set in the United States. “Because America is where these mega big tech companies are located,” Garland explains. “Google, Apple, Microsoft, they’re deeply American. There’s this notional company called Blue Book in the film, but basically it’s the world’s biggest search engine, a tech company of a particular sort, and they’re almost exclusively American.”
Call ing The Shots
4 Ex_ Machina is Garland’s first film as a director, but it wasn’t the big deal you might think. “I know there’s a big cult based around directing in the film industry but I don’t buy into it at all. I only ever saw it as film- making. Every time I would work on a film it began with me trying to figure out what type of film to make and the best way to make that film, they’re all beset by the same problems and hopes.”
the art robotic body – a true impossible girl. “I saw the world as ten minutes in the future,” Garland explains. “My basic idea was if somebody at Apple or Google announced that they had created Ava on some level we’d be surprised, but on another level we wouldn’t be surprised at all. I grew up in the ’ 70s and an iPhone is a pretty amazing thing in that respect. Obviously Ava would usher in a much more profound change than an iPhone, but people would be able to accept it. They wouldn’t say: ‘ This is too strange for me to get my head around.’”
Ava is the brainchild of brilliant recluse Nathan ( Oscar Isaac), a genius coder and creator of the world’s most popular search engine, Blue Book. At the start of the film Nathan’s talented but timid employee Caleb ( Domhnall Gleeson) wins a trip to his boss’ idyllic, high- tech home, but it’s all a ruse. Caleb is really there to test Ava via a series of everyday conversations and Nathan is so confident in his creation that he doesn’t even attempt to conceal Ava’s mechanised body, putting her on full display behind a glass wall.
After collaborating on Dredd, Garland once again turned to British comic artist Jock to ensure Ava’s look was unique. “It doesn’t take much to attach a robot design to pre- existing robots,” Garland says. “If you make a robot gold coloured they are basically C- 3PO. White plastic makes you think of Chris Cunnigham’s “All Is Full Of Love” Björk video, used quite a lot in I, Robot. So we had to go through a lot of designs to get here, because otherwise your first impression of her would be to think of a different movie.”
Set almost entirely in Nathan’s remote compound, the film is a three hander ( four if you count Nathan’s silent, subservient partner Kyoko) that lives or dies on its cast. Having worked together twice previously Gleeson was among the first to read Garland’s final script.
“We had a really good relationship from two movies, Dredd and Never Let Me Go,” Garland says. “The thing about Domhnall is he can
“Vulnerability can be irritating, but in Gleeson it’s engaging”
project vulnerability in a way that doesn’t push you away. Vulnerability in male actors can be irritating, but in him it’s engaging. He’s got a gentleness. A lot of actors tend to pull towards the alpha male, but he’s much more complex than that, so I knew he was right for Caleb.”
Despite a mind that would make Brian Cox look like a dunce, Caleb is soon out of his depth – stuck in the middle of a psychological battle between the world’s smartest man, and the fiercely intelligent machine that has grown to despise her creator. If Ava is the film’s brain and Caleb its soul, Nathan is Ex_ Machina’s twisted heart of darkness.
“When I used to think of Nathan I had various things in my mind but one of them was Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, where he’s just spent too much time talking to machines,” Garland explains. “There was also Oppenheimer, one of the key scientists behind the atomic bomb. It felt like there were parallels between the creation of a self aware AI and atomic bombs, which are played out quite explicitly in the film and discussed, actually.”
Ex_ Machina also has an unexpected calling card – in Gleeson and Isaac it brought together two actors new to a galaxy far, far away before they were cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Which begs the question – does Garland know something we don’t?
“I’m not clairvoyant, honest! It was weird, it was really weird. But Ex_ Machina’s a tricky film in a lot of respects, so I was really pleased they got the parts because I thought that will make more people interested in our film than would have been otherwise!”
Ex_ Machina is in cinemas from 23 January.
That’s the cleanest hearth we’ve ever seen.
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Ava looks angry. Perhaps someone’s stolen her last chip?
Caleb suddenly remembered that he’d forgotten his PE kit.