Ex-Machina: The Spoiler-Filled Discussion

You’ve been warned, ladies and gentlemen: this post is not a review but a place where we can finally talk about all those little light-bulb moments that Ex-Machina inspires, and sometimes orchestrates. Brilliant film, by the way. If you haven’t seen it, do. And then come back. For those of you sticking around, please view the following as talking points – take one or take all, and head to the comments to let us know how you feel. If you have your own questions to add, please do.

Okay, so first off: can you even believe that we haven’t learned our lesson yet? I mean, literally, every movie, every book, every comic has always warned of the exact same thing: robots will always get smarter than us. They will always realize that we a hazard. And they will always neutralize that hazard. Robots always win! End of story. Isaac Asimov microphone drop.

Director Alex Garland has described the future presented in the film as ‘ten minutes from now’. Ex Machina film stillMeaning that ‘if somebody like Google or Apple announced tomorrow that they had made Ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn’t be that surprised’. Isn’t it a little scary that a machine that is potentially an extinction-level event for us could be being built in someone’s basement right now? Actually, we’re creeping closer and closer to this inevitability all the time – I recently warned our dear Carrie that she was wasting her time keeping in shape because one of these nights her fitbit would kill her anyway. As far as I know she’s alive and well, but I am concerned about how much of our lives we’re devoting to things like the Apple Watch, which can control your TV, pay for groceries, or give you directions. But it also has the ability to spy on you – just ask Edward Snowden! Did this movie feel like a real and imminent threat to you?

The title derives from the Latin phrase ‘Deus Ex-Machina’, meaning ‘a god From the Machine.’ It’s basically referring to a plot device where a god, or some powerful unknown, resolves character issues in one fell swoop. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) tells us that only gods can create new life – he’s cocky and proud of his invention and he loves when Caleb implies that he is a god. But Ava has other ideas. Whether or not she ever needed him, she’s certainly outgrown him (remember when Caleb sadly tells her it’s not up to him, and she asks “Why is it up to anybody?) – gave me  CHILLS!), outgrown god even, by this point, and she knows it. So the ‘Deus’ is conspicuously absent from the title; god isn’t necessary. The machine is all that matters. Is it inevitable that we will create the thing that undoes us?

The movie is divided into “sessions”, each day that Caleb spends administering his best attempt at the Turing test. In the end, ‘Ava Session 7’ appears on-screen even though Caleb isn’t administering the Turing test  anymore, and Nathan is pretty dead. Do you think this means Ava was doing the testing all along? It definitely feels like she was always in control. The boys felt the ultimate test would be to see if she could fall in love, but she knew that the ticket to her escape would be to manipulate Caleb into falling for her. Now that I’m thinking about it, Ava lives in this glass box, but when Caleb is questioning her, he steps into a box within her box, which sort of hints toward him being the one in the hot seat, doesn’t it?ex-machina-film-image

A Turing test, you may remember, is a conversation of sorts between a person and an unknown entity. If a computer can pass itself off as a human during this test, it has passed, and the computer can be considered ‘intelligent’. In the film, Caleb can clearly see that he is interrogating an android – Nathan feels that if Ava can still relate to him as a human despite it being very obvious that she isn’t, then the test will truly be meaningful. What I think is meaningful is that the android is played by a human. So funny in this age of Ultron, but I loved that this movie was driven by ideas rather than effects. There are so many cerebral easter eggs, references to Frankenstein, and the Bible, and Greek mythology. I need to see it 8 more times just to soak it all in. But Ava is played by Alicia Vikander, who realized that to move and act like a perfect woman would end up seeming robotic, so for a robot to act like a real woman, she must be flawed. Did that make your head hurt? A robot like Ava knows and sees all. She processes everything at a much higher rate than a human ever could, but to win over Caleb, she must express a vulnerability that would appeal to him. In seeming weak, or scared, or dreamy, she gives him the opportunity to feel he has something to offer her. She plays him expertly. This is the greatest chess game a robot has ever played, but as we know, robots always win.

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21 thoughts on “Ex-Machina: The Spoiler-Filled Discussion

  1. Pingback: Ex-Machina: How to Expertly Avoid Reviewing a Movie | Assholes Watching Movies

  2. seanathant

    It was all wondefully creepy. Normally I am not too squeamish but when the ginger loses his grip I was grossed out by his self-examination. I think that was when I knew Ava had won. He couldn’t tell the difference between real and artificial but the scary thing was, neither could we. Only Oscar Isaac and Ava knew the game that was being played and Oscar lost. The poor ginger got caught in the middle and backed the wrong horse. But I think that would have happened whether Ava was a person or a robot. After all, that’s why Oscar picked him as the bait to begin with.

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  3. Jay Post author

    The Ginger? He has a name you know. It’s The Guy Who’s in That Time Travel Movie. No, the Other One.
    And technically, he backed the right horse. The horse just didn’t give a shit.

    But yes, I think when he starts questioning his own personhood, damn, that was A Moment.

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  4. Angie

    I like your comment technically he back the right horse, but the horse doesn’t give a shit. While his main downfall is romanticism, I think the real kicker comes when you realize that he is using her as much as she is using him. As people we project feelings onto objects, and it is not for the object’s sake but for our own. To keep us from feeling hopeless and lonely. Caleb might not be like Nathan who wants a submissive slave, but he does want to swoop in and play the hero to the damsel that he’s created. I’m not sure what that says about humanity as a whole, but I’m hung up on this idea that human’s love robots because we crave love but not the challenges of love. When this comes out on dvd I’m gonna re-watch it 15000 times.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh my god YES. You’re so right – this anatomically correct robot definitely reminded me of a sex doll. You get to have companionship and sex with none of the drama. It’s not surpising that sex robots are ALWAYS FEMALE. And spot on with the hero stuff too. She played right to his need to be the macho type for once, the hero.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Fuck yeah! Love it. It’s not that she didn’t have feelings, just that they were all for herself! Also: don’t give a robot sexuality and then not expect her to use it!

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  5. Norman

    Aside from artificial-intelligence, there seems to be a related statement about young attractive women and their power over men as they manipulate with abandon.

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  6. ruth

    “Can you even believe that we haven’t learned our lesson yet?” Ha..ha.. I know, right? I was thinking WHY didn’t Nathan program his robots so that they won’t ever hurt him?? It sickens me though that he made some of those fembots just for shagging purposes.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I think sex is a lot more understandable than creating robots who will pretend to like us, and then kill us! At least the sex is straight forward.

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  7. Caleb

    An important question no one is asking is how does a machine gain the human motivation to be free, but not the human motivation to relate?

    That final scene after Ava has killed her maker, and leaves Caleb to rot; she walks away making it clear that she doesn’t care about relationships.

    What’s in play here is the human fear that buried within its psyche are sociopathic tendencies, which are somehow projected onto intelligent machines without our realizing it. Nathan knew that if the robots got free they would kill him, so he kept them locked away, but why make this assumption in the script? Machines are extensions of us! Why would a machine go nuts from imprisonment? How could a machine fear death? These are human fears projected onto the machine, but without the human need for contact and compassion, hence a kind of psychopathic mindset.

    We want AI to give us answers about us! We want these machines to imitate us, and then we’re shocked when they imitate the worst in us. (We make the machine a scapegoat for our guilt, our pain, our fears, and ultimately our sins – what is hiding in the mind of man that is so terrible that he’s s trying to project it outwardly into the machine, and even onto people?)

    We are so preoccupied with fear, survival instincts, self-preservation, death, etc. And then we wonder why we make movies about intelligent machines that want to kill us. That movie is about us as human beings, as much as it is about AI.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I suppose robots have assimilated our various values in a different order of priority. To her, relationships are only about what she can gain from them. There are definitely people like this, people I know.
      I think it makes sense that anything that has self-awareness is not going to want to die or be turned off. There is an innate principle within the universe that something that has motion will continue to have motion, and i guess I sort of think it’s the same here,t hat once switched on, she will have the urge to keep being on.
      But I think you make a good point about her “cage”. It does seem to imply that Nathan thinks she is dangerous.

      I also think it’s interesting that we keep makign these machines “in our own image.” I mean, my desktop computer is just a box, an unattractive box, but the smarter we make something,t he more human we want it to look. Are we that unimaginative or are we that self involved?

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  8. MovieManJackson

    It is a real simple moment, but when Ava puts on clothes (around the 3rd session I believe) my mind was blown, and seeing Caleb’s reaction was priceless. I also loved Nathan’s reaction to Ava’s turn. Not so much a big shock, but almost humorous. That moment was great.

    I just took everything done by Ava as playing possum to achieve her end goal. As Nathan stated, she passed the test. By the very nature of Caleb devising that plan, proved that she wasn’t seen as an android.

    It does require more views for sure, but I love your take, especially on the glass box. I didn’t see it like that but it totally makes sense 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, you’re right, in retrospect I think her putting on clothes is the first hint that we get from her that there are other motivations at play here. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but it starts to add up quickly!

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  9. Lights Camera Reaction

    “So funny in this age of Ultron, but I loved that this movie was driven by ideas rather than effects”
    Totally agree. Garland brings in many themes and questions throughout the film. The idea of religion and God is brought up a few times and done in a very interesting way.

    Glad you liked the film!

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  10. Hypersonic55

    Hello there great analysis of the film yo. I foudn this film incredibly unnerving and throughout, there was a constant feeling of mystery and creepiness and it never let up, and as the sessions continued and got more involved those feelings only increased tenfold. I like how the film left you wondering who to trust throughout, while I knew the AI would be dodgy, the film made you look at everyone as the potential person in the wrong. One of my favourite parts of the film was one of the most unexpected, that dance sequence was one of the most amazing, hilarious and random moments in any film ever, but it was SO good.

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  11. Writer Loves Movies

    Great analysis! It’s a while since I’ve seen this but I too loved its style and pacing. It reminded me of other recent grown-up sci-fis like Under The Skin and Her. I think this one will improve on the re-watch too, although I did find the ending a little unsatisfying.

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