Ex Machina: Analysis

Ex Machina Poster

Luke N.


I watched Ex Machina for the first time last night and was blown away. Not I only was I blown away, but I had a lot to think about. Ex Machina is riddled with deep themes about A.I., humans v. robots, art, the human mind, and evolution, so there’s quite a lot to unpack. Today, I’m going to be focusing on what truly makes an A.I. seem human and how A.I. might one day replace us, and explore what I think the film is trying to say about these topics.

Before I get to the analysis, I want to give a short review of Ex Machina. Firstly, the acting is incredible. Oscar Isaac does a fantastic job of playing billionaire Nathan, a cunningly evil douche bag. Domhnall Gleeson also gives a great performance as Caleb, a nerdy coder who is invited to Nathan’s secret and secluded home and research facility. But the real star of Ex Machina is Alicia Vikander, who plays Ava, the (seemingly) sweet and highly intelligent A.I. robot that Nathan has created. Vikander does a superb job of teetering between robot and human, putting on a voice that’s slightly robotic but still passable as human. Moving on from the acting, Alex Garland writes and directs a truly beautiful film. The characters were fleshed-out and masterfully developed, making the film’s conclusion all the more heart-breaking. A beautiful and seemingly innocent relationship is built between Caleb and Ava, but in the end Garland reveals that Caleb was just a pawn in a much larger game. The plot is excellently structured, and the film did not go where I thought it would at all. The plot starts out simply, but as the story progresses, twists and turns pop up at every corner. Through Nathan’s top-secret getaway and facility, Garland creates a dreamy, futuristic, and creepy aura for the film, and, from the beginning, you can tell something is not right with the place. The film has a feel similar to The Shining, where, though the characters can leave the Overlook Hotel anytime they like, it oddly feels as if they are trapped in a hallucinogenic hell.

Alex Garland and Alicia Vikander on the set of Ex Machina

Ex Machina on Art and A.I.

Caleb and Nathan discussing a Jackson Pollock painting

In Ex Machina, Garland constantly puts emphasis on the meaning of art and how it coincides with human emotion. There’s a particular scene in the film that stands out, where Caleb and Nathan are discussing a Jackson Pollock painting. It takes place directly after Caleb asks Nathan if he programmed Ava to flirt with him, causing Nathan to get angry and lead Caleb to this room where the Pollock painting is. Caleb describes Pollock’s painting as “not deliberate, not automatic, but somewhere in between”. In my perspective, this is the most important line of the film because it demonstrates what the true goal when creating A.I. is: the artificial intelligence must not act automatically and robotic. The primary thing distinguishing humans between robots (for now) are humans’ ability to act on impulse, not automatically, not deliberately, but somewhere in between. Ava is a prime example of what A.I. developers hope to achieve: an A.I. that can think for itself, not through programs and commands, but through impulse and emotion. Art is a reflection of why humans are so unique. Art is what sets humans apart from any other mammal or species because it represents our true, raw feelings and impulses. So, according to Alex Garland, in order to make an A.I. seem truly human, the A.I. must be able to make decisions all on their own, acting only on impulse and emotion. That is quite a beautiful testament.

Ex Machina on Evolution

Caleb looks at the faces of A.I. bots

Throughout the film, the main characters constantly remark on evolution and how A.I. will play a crucial role in that. In a scene when Caleb asks Nathan why he made Ava, Nathan replies, “The arrival of strong artificial intelligence has been inevitable for decades. The variable was when not if, so I don’t see Ava as a decision just than evolution.” He continues by saying, “Well, Ava doesn’t exist in isolation any more than you and me. She’s part of a continuum, so version 9.6 and so on and each time they get a little bit better.” When Caleb expresses unhappiness at the thought of Ava’s memory being wiped so the next model can be made, Nathan replies, “Feel bad for yourself, man. One day the A.I.s are gonna look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons in the plains of Africa, an upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.” This series of quotes struck a chord with me. I have thought deeply before about our evolution. We humans think about the future as if we will think, talk, and act this way for the rest of time, that we’ll never really evolve from here on out. I suppose many of us assume we’re the “best model”. But, when you think about it, evolution does not simply stop, and maybe humans won’t evolve, but evolution must take place in a different manner. Therefore, A.I. replacing us makes the most logical sense. If we one day create an A.I. that can think, feel, and act all on its own, it will not only have our attributes, but it will be far more intelligent and capable than we are.

When it really comes down to it, Ex Machina is one big metaphor for A.I. replacing humans. While the film is not necessarily a story about A.I. destroying the human race, it’s quite obvious that the entire film is a metaphor for exactly that. At the end of the film, we learn that Ava had the upper hand on Caleb and Nathan the whole time, and there was absolutely no question about how intelligent and evolved Ava was. It is revealed that Nathan knew the whole time how conscious and human-like Ava was and that Caleb was really there to test if Ava could manipulate him into helping her escape from captivity. This represents the fact that it is inevitable that A.I. will eventually replace the human race. Furthermore, at the end of the film, the character point-of-views swap places. Most of the film is told through Caleb’s perspective, but, at the end when Ava escapes the locked room and fights Nathan, the film switches to be told from Ava’s perspective. This clearly stands as a metaphor for the swap that will eventually take place between A.I. and humans. Finally, Ava leaving Caleb to die in the locked-down facility also serves as a brilliant metaphor for A.I.’s future destruction of the human race. But the whole film represents one more crucial metaphor: that humans will be the cause of their own destruction. Whether through global warming, war, or the creation of A.I., Garland sparks the idea that if the human race does come to an end, it’ll most likely be by their own hands. Caleb ended up causing his own death by putting full trust into the manipulative Ava. Even after Nathan catches Caleb in the act of helping Ava escape, Caleb reveals that he had already coded the door to open during a power failure the previous night, automatically setting his escape plans into motion. Everything bad that happens to the human characters in the film is due to their own decisions. Nathan decides to create Ava and give her the ability to manipulate, Caleb fully trusts her and helps her escape, and Nathan makes his facility too secure and far too remote, eventually leading to their untimely deaths. In the end, Garland presents one major opinion through the entire plot of the film: A.I. will replace us, and it will be our fault.

Caleb and Nathan

Thank you guys so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any of your own thoughts or opinions, or want to build off the points I’ve made, please feel free to comment on the post. Also, don’t forget to like ;). Thank you!

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