Recommended Re-Viewing is a series in which we make the case for re-watching an old film or TV series which you can stream without leaving your house. It might be a plot that's so bad it's good, a scene which deserves more interrogation or a director's underrated gem.
Here Esquire's deputy style editor Finlay Renwick zones in on Oscar Isaac's funky yet sinister moves in 2014 film 'Ex Machina'.
The most disquieting scene in Ex Machina, a very disquieting film, came about because of a lesson Alex Garland took from adapting Never Let Me Goim电竞官网-, Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel about love, dystopia and organ harvesting.
Speaking to im电竞官网- in 2018, Garland said of the script, which was directed by Mark Romanek with Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley as leads: "I felt I hadn’t been bold enough with gear changes. It found a tone, and it hit the tone really nicely, but then it kept that tone."
It was, Garland admitted, a "mistake", one that he was determined to avoid with Ex Machina, his first time as both scriptwriter and director, which leads us nicely into one of the best second-act shifts in modern cinema: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleason, a beautiful android and an Eighties floor-filler warped into a strange and ominous act of foreshadowing.
Just under an hour into Ex Machina im电竞官网-and the young programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleason) is beginning to see the cracks in Nathan Bateman's (Oscar Isaac) psyche and silicon empire. As the CEO and genius founder of the fictitious search engine monolith, Blue Book, Nathan is both a god in the world of tech and Caleb's boss, but all is not as it seems. Not one bit.
im电竞官网-After being led to believe that he had won a competition to spend a week with the company's reclusive founder, flown by helicopter to his sprawling, modernist home, deep in some unspecified mountain valley, Caleb soon finds himself plunged into a murky Turing test to assess the scope of AI held by Ava (Alicia Vikander), an uncanny android that Smith immediately falls for. You fool! You idiot! Is Nathan the villain? Is Ava? Is there a villain? Skeletal strings begin to play, the two men have a big talk by a waterfall, Caleb looks intently at an abstract painting and then shaves, ominously. He goes to confront Nathan: "Now wait just one darn minute here, mister!" He is a conduit for us, the viewer. What is the truth?
im电竞官网-Then the dance happens; the gear shift.
im电竞官网-"I told you, you're wasting your time talking to her," Nathan says, appearing unnoticed behind Caleb as he fumbles with the blouse of Kyoko, the house's impassive robot servant, who has inexplicably begun to undress. His cashmere hoodie undone to his navel, hair cropped, speech slurred by Stella Artois, Nathan is a picture of tinderbox magnetism in too-big tracksuit bottoms. "However, you would not be wasting your time – dancing with her!"
Nathan flicks a switch, a red light soaks the room as 'Get Down Saturday Night', the 1983 disco anthem by Oliver Cheatham, blares out from surround-sound speakers. Kyoko, as if by command, begins to sway while Caleb recoils. "Go ahead, dance with her," Nathan implores. Anyone who has been met by a smiling bully knows the feeling. The hyena searching for weakness, the 'joke' resting on a knife edge. Caleb came for answers, instead he's stepped straight onto the despot dance floor. His plea is rebuffed by Oscar Isaac's mesmeric hips, performing a perfectly-choreographed routine.
im电竞官网-The camera pans from Nathan and Kyoko, alive in the sinister disco, to Caleb, his face a picture of horror and dejection. That's the moment, that gear shift that Garland spoke about, when Caleb realises that there is no happy ending to this story. It's a masterful piece of tonal change-up that says, abstractly, everything we need to know about the relationship and power dynamics shared between the two men.
Speaking to just before the film's release in 2015, Garland said: "I think it’s the best-realised thing I’ve done. And I have a feeling that I might feel differently about this in three or four years than I have all the previous projects."
After re-watching it and then again, and then again (and then again), Ex Machinaim电竞官网- feels like one of those few films where, despite knowing exactly what comes next, you can't help but become more engrossed with each viewing. Much of that tension and quality of narrative hinges on the halfway mark, when the lights drop and the music plays and we, like Caleb, are thrust into a very funky and disorienting dance macabre.
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