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Don't Compare 'Ex Machina' to '2001: A Space Odyssey'

We spoke to writer-director Alex Garland about what makes a film "Kubrickian."
Ava meets Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) for the first time. All images courtesy A24 Films

With its sleek, futuristic set pieces, sharp screenplay, and focus on the relationship betweens humans and artificial intelligence, comparisons between Ex Machina and 2001: A Space Odyssey were all but inevitable. The film's writer-director Alex Garland, however, thinks that comparisons between his work and that of Stanley Kubrick are a bit off, to say the least:

"People chuck that word about, Kubrickian, don't they? They just use it," he tells The Creators Project. Compared to Kubrick's notoriously totalitarian directing style, Garland is much more of a team player, gathering powerful voices, like those of actors Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson, and cinematographer Rob Hardy into a room and letting them speak. "I'm not an auteur and I haven't worked on auteur films," he explains. "What I've done is I've worked with a group of people."


But regardless of directing styles, with its calculated cinematography, extended periods of time without dialogue, and gaze toward the the problems humanity will face in the future Ex Machina's visuals can be reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey's. Kubrick's unfinished final project, A.I., which was later completed by Steven Spielberg, dealt with an even more similar premise in its lifelike artificial protagonist struggling with its own humanity.

But to Garland, "Kubrickian" means something else entirely. "For me, it's more to do with the degree to which they stand up to inspection… I've seen it applied to films that have this kind of strong aesthetic quality, but are as thick as shit, right? The actual film is just fucking dumb," he explains. "And I think, well that's not Kubrickian because what that guy was, was smart. More than anything else, what he was, was smart. And intelligent with the aesthetics for sure, but intelligent top to bottom."

So does Ex Machina warrant this elite method of praise? Of all his previous scripts, including 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and The Beach, he feels that his latest film best meets the goals it sets out for. But Kubrickian? Not exactly: he qualifies his definition, "I just want to be very clear, this has got nothing to do with Ex Machina, this is just my observation of what I think Kubrickian actually means."

Learn more about the film's production our documentary, Ex Machina | Examining Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence (above).


Caleb examinies Nathan's research lab.

Ava (Alicia Vikander) reacts to the face of her android predecessor.

Caleb has a chat with Nathan.

Ex Machina opens in theaters nationwide today.


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