One of the more welcome surprises of the past year was Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” a movie I had almost zero expectations about. Garland’s directorial debut turned out to be a confident, striking and economical piece of genre reconstruction that uses its veneer of heady sci-fi entertainment to probe unsettling and relevant themes (gender roles, our relationship with technology, A.I.). Featuring soulful turns from Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac (who gave us the year’s most memorable and GIF-worthy dance sequence), “Ex Machina” is also a thrilling glimpse of where sci-fi might be headed as a genre in the next couple of years. It’s a haunting, admirably scaled-down parable about the God complex and exactly what it means to be human (not surprisingly, the film ended up landing on more than a few Best of the Year lists, including our very own Oli Lyttleton’s).
One film that “Ex Machina” resembles on its dark, sleek surface is Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin,” one of the most memorable and widely praised movies of 2013. The comparison is the subject of a new “Like It/Love It” video essay courtesy of the folks at Cinefix. While “Under the Skin” is ultimately a more disquieting film and certainly more of a mood piece overall, it’s hard to deny that the two pictures share overlapping stylistic and thematic preoccupations. Both are fundamentally concerned with the grey area where human behavior ends and artificial intelligence begins, and both also have plenty to say about perceived sexuality and social conditioning when it comes to gender. “Ex Machina,” which boasts a traditionally satisfying three-act dramatic structure that is absent in Glazer’s more ambitious film, is cut from the dense and prescient science fiction literature of Isaac Asimov and Phillip K. Dick, while “Under the Skin” is a decidedly less linear, more sensually-minded affair that brings to mind the iciness of Stanley Kubrick as well as the gruesome body horror of David Cronenberg.
What do you think? Would “Ex Machina” and “Under the Skin” make a neat double feature? Or is the video reaching for parallels it can’t quite grasp? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.