Ex Machina – The New Blade Runner

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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          In today’s filmmaking climate, I rarely find films that impact me in a lasting way.  However, Ex Machina stands apart from a lot of recent films.  The film’s story is original, it has interesting/intense characters, and a suspenseful tone. These are qualities I look for in a good movie.  Additionally, it achieves something that many recent films fail to do–creation by inspiration.  Clearly, the inspiration for this film was Blade Runner.

Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland, is about a code programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a week-long trip with super genius (Oscar Isaac) to help test his Artificial intelligence, named Ava (Alicia Vikander). However, Caleb slowly realizes that he himself is the experiment.   Throughout Ex Machina, the characters discuss the hidden purpose for search engines, which Caleb discovers is to ultimately create more realistic AI.  In addition, the film offers an inward look into a young adult’s psyche, and into basic human emotions in general.  Both elements form a study of how humans behave when they believe that they are in love.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is about a retired detective named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who works as a “blade runner” who hunts down rogue android beings called replicants. Deckard’s mission is to terminate six renegade androids, but in the process he falls in love with one of them. He must then make a choice to either complete his mission, try to create a life where he can be with the woman he loves.

Both films dive into the human-machine relationship, and show that machines can be more than your stereotypical robot.  In Blade Runner, this message is apparent throughout, but this message is not revealed in Ex Machina until the last minute.

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Both films are driven by a love story.  However, the protagonists fall in love for very different reasons.  Deckard feels a personal connection with the android, while Caleb simply lusts for Ava.  Deckard has only a few years to live with the android (due to their short lifespan), and in that span of time, they would be on the run every second from authorities.  Therefore, Deckard has more at stake.

While both movies are fairly slow paced, the two films fill the slow moments in different ways, but Blade Runner does so more effectively.  Blade Runner explores its universe through visuals, similar to 2001: Space Odyssey.  The unique visuals are what makes the film stand out.  Ex Machina, however, stands out by how it explores its universe through dialogue about abstract concepts of currently relevant topics.  The audience doesn’t see a lot of the outside world in Ex Machina.  Blade Runner’s use of visuals makes its universe more appealing than the world of Ex Machina (see the picture at the top, farthest to the left). Film is, after all, a visual storytelling medium.

The two films have very different sets of characters.  The characters of Blade Runner are either misunderstood, lonely, and/or in search of happiness and purpose.   On the other hand, Ex Machina’s characters are either lustful and caring, or calculating and manipulative.  What sets Blade Runner a couple of notches above Ex Machina is that it has character arcs.  For example, Deckard transforms from a mindless detective to a man who falls in love with an android.  Caleb begins as a boy, he never grows up, and in the end he falls down a dark path.

While Ex Machina is not as good as Blade Runner, it was still so good that it made me believe that a movie with no explosions or fast-paced dialogue can still exist today.   Today I find that a lot of films rush through dialogue, deliver overly long and over-stimulating action sequences, and feature far too many characters to allow any actual character development.  What kept me engaged in Ex Machina was the question, “Who is the bad guy: the human or the machine?”  The suspense caused by the mystery, along with the three main characters, prove to me that a small cast can carry a film with such wide-scoped subject matter. It’s important that audiences support films like these so that artists who make films like these can continue to create new works. Hopefully films like Ex Machina will then become classic films today, instead of in twenty years when they are rediscovered by audiences like Blade Runner.

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