It’s been a few of months since Ex Machina was released but it’s a film already considered to be one of the best and most talked about of the year. Alex Garland’s directorial debut follows Caleb, a programmer sent to perform a specific test on Ava, an AI robot: check if she can pass for human.
During the first time I saw Ex Machina, Garland was present and discussed the film’s plot. What we ultimately see is Ava’s journey into freedom. That was Garland’s intention; to make Ava escape. She’s whom you should be cheering for.
One interesting moral debate Ex Machina offers is about an AI’s sexuality. That’s what I plan on getting into; how Nathan’s constant abuse of Ava has led to her search of consensual sex and sexual satisfaction, and how she used all this to run away.
We need to follow two assumptions, however. The first one is that Ava was originally programmed to escape. Nathan mentions this briefly after the big reveal. He says Caleb’s only job was to be a way of Ava to escape. Nathan wanted her to behave like a human (thus proving to be a perfect AI), using imagination, empathy, self-awareness, by means of escaping, not in order to escape.
The second assumption: Ava and Nathan have had sex, many times, probably nonconsensually. This has actually been “confirmed” by Oscar Isaac on a recent interview, as part of “Nathan’s backstory.” We know he has sexbots and Ava is one of them. So let’s assume what she wants is sexual freedom and the liberty to feel pleasure from sex. Off we go.
When Caleb visits Ava for the first time, he notices cracked glass on the wall, a clear sign of struggle or dissatisfaction. Ava, being a self-aware machine, understands her situation: she’s trapped. Caleb’s the first other human she met, so during most of their talks, she’s trying to see through him and discover his intentions.
Caleb is enchanted with her. Trying to understand how Ava works made him extremely interested and, since he’s a straight male, it’s no wonder he becomes her knight in shining armor when it comes to helping her escape.
Nathan’s sexism can be seen once Ava appears for the first time. I asked myself this when she showed up. Why aren’t her chest and hip also transparent? Why this need to make a robot resemble an attractive woman?
Caleb soon opens up to Ava and, upon questioned, shares his personal life very easily, implying he likes her. Session two already feels very much like a date, a word she carefully mentions later on. Another smart move of Ava is to compare both men she now knows and also to ask Caleb if he likes Nathan. Does he also just wants to know how smart she is and use Ava for sex?
On their next encounter, Ava says what she wants to do in case she ever goes outside: people watching at a traffic intersection. Ex Machina third act is very sex heavy, but this is scene for me is fundamental. I don’t actually believe this is her dream. After being raped countless times by Nathan, and as a robot who truly wants to blend in with mankind, Ava’s biggest desire is to have consensual sex, in a way she can actually enjoy.
Sexual intimacy and pleasure are an essential part of the human experience, after all. Despite having an artificial body, Ava can feel excitement from sex, Nathan reveals this later. He does want Ava (or her body, since her mind’s getting upgraded) to feel sexual pleasure but it’s hard to say if she ever felt it with him, though, since it’s likely been nonconsensual. And as a conscious being, she has urges and wants.
Though Ava leaving Caleb to die in the end of the movie contradicts this (why not just leave with him and fuck him later?), this encounter helps this theory quite a bit. He mentions the word “date” and it was the excuse Ava wanted. She dresses up for him and he’s completely seduced. All she has to do now is ask.
On session four, Caleb tells a tale about a girl. Mary knows everything about color, but she’s stuck in a colorless room. She’s lived there her whole life and can see the outside world through a black and white monitor. One day the door opens and she leaves. Mary learns something she didn’t know, not even with her endless color studies. She learns how it feels to see and experience color.
The moral of the story was to show the difference between a computer (black and white Mary locked inside) and a human (knowledgeable and sentient). Sex with Nathan up to this point has been black and white; forced, lifeless, violent. Only escaping and having new experiences she could truly experience consensual sex.
Ava asks Caleb “what will happen to me if I fail your test?” showing fearful and angry behaviour, rightfully so. Later, Caleb questions Nathan about her future and learns her fears are warranted. The plan is to eventually upgrade her, rebooting her consciousness.
Caleb ends up helping Ava escape. As she’s walking out, Ava finds Kyoko and they examine each other. They realize they’re both robots and Ava whispers something, a command possibly. Within these few seconds, they notice they are on the same side. If you’ve been an abused robot and found another one when trying to escape, it’s not hard to figure out you’re on the same boat.
The symbolism of Nathan’s death is clear. While Nathan’s fighting Ava, Kyoko comes from behind and stabs him with a knife. A phallus, just like the penis he used the many times he violated them both. He’s stabbed twice, on the front and back, but both ways the knife went in slowly as if cutting jello. Maybe their way of showing how it feels.
I was never planning on discussing why Ava left Caleb, but here are my two cents: since her task is complete, she no longer sees any use to him. Ava was always pretending to like him. Now he becomes a danger to her existence because he knows she’s a robot.
So she leaves, follows the helicopter and finds another man, a stranger. Since she’s now free, Ava can do as she pleases. And then she visits a traffic intersection; or she chooses to have sex with the pilot, “transcends into a human being”, and experiments color.