Ex Machina

I recently saw the 2015 film Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac. It really got me thinking, but first a plot recap is in order. Domhmnall Gleeson plays 26-year-old Caleb, a programmer who works for Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) Google-esque company. Caleb has won the opportunity to travel to Nathan’s remote estate to be the human component in the Turing Test of his latest AI creation, Ava.


As you can probably imagine, Ex Machina brings to life all of the fears the collective we envisions regarding human-like robots. Ava immediately develops a crush on Caleb, the first man she’s met aside from Nathan, her creator. Caleb is taken by her innocence and charm, especially when Ava warns Caleb of Nathan’s nefarious ways. In the interest of Ava’s freedom, Caleb develops an intricate plan to help her escape. Once granted the freedom she so desperately seeks, Ava turns on Caleb – all of our fears have been realized.

Ex Machina is the perfect sci-fi thriller. Its slow pace makes you ruminate in the moral and ethical questions that surround the concept of AI. Because these machines portray the same emotional range as humans, do they deserve the free will and autonomy that humans do? Does powering down an AI equate to killing a person? The performances are very convincing with Oscar Isaac standing out as a brilliant recluse.

Review over. Analysis begins.

In literature, villains often embody contemporary culture’s greatest fears. I spent a good chunk of my educational career examining Elizabeth Bowen’s ghost stories, particularly how they exemplified the concerns surrounding both World Wars. For a more accessible example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus, which has greatly influenced Ex Machina, personified fears of science as it related to the understanding of human life at the time of its publication. Similarly, having a villain in the form of a robot does the same thing in Ex Machina – Ava embodies everything we worry about when it comes to artificial intelligence. But, she may embody another fear, as well…

Compared to her more violent robotic counterparts, such as the Terminator, Ava is not physically imposing. She’s relatively docile and not explicitly programmed for destruction. Throughout the film, the camera openly objectifies Ava as a beautiful creation, a perfect design. The male gaze is intermixed with a gaze of appreciation for the sophistication of her technology. In spending time with Caleb, she becomes his ideal woman. Ava turns the perception of her femininity on its head, however, using her sexuality as a weapon rather than as a service to the men that idolize her.

In short, Ava is a misogynist’s nightmare. Previously controlled by men, she becomes a woman who acts autonomously. The fact that she’s an AI only adds to the allegory. By disingenuously flirting with Caleb, she wields her feminine wiles to her advantage rather than for the pleasure of a man. She literally escapes by figuratively escaping the stereotypical confines that have been placed on her programmed gender. Forgetting the violence that ensues when she gains her freedom, Ava’s actions are totally BA.