Alex Garland, Dir., Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015), Alex Garland, Dir.



“Ex Machina,” debuting in 2015, was written and directed by Alex Garland, and starred Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Sonoya Mizuno.  The film follows a programmer named Caleb who wins a prize to visit the CEO of his company, later discovering that the real purpose is to administer the Turing Test to Ava, a humanoid robot with AI.    

Plot Summary:

Caleb Smith works for a software company and wins a free trip to the home of Nathan Bateman, CEO of the company.  Caleb soon comes to realize that Nathan has built a humanoid robot with AI.  Ava, the robot, has passed the Turing test and Nathan wants Caleb to determine whether she is capable of true thought and consciousness.  Ava and Caleb begin their conversations while Ava is confined to a small apartment in the building.  Caleb soon discovers that Ava can cause power shortages so that they might speak without the surveillance of Nathan.  During a power outage, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan cannot be trusted.  When Caleb discovers that Nathan intends to upgrade Ava, he persuades Nathan to drink until he passes out.  Caleb then breaks into Nathan’s room and watches surveillance of Nathan interacting with Ava, Kyoko, and what look to be earlier models.  Thinking that he might be an android, Caleb cuts his own arm.  Caleb tells Ava his plan during the next power outage to get Nathan drunk, reprogram the security locks to open during a power outage, allowing them to escape together.  Nathan reveals that he has been watching them all along on a battery-powered camera and that Ava has only been pretending to like him to escape, thus proving her intelligence.  Ava cuts the power, Caleb reveals that he modified the security system the previous day, Nathan watches Ava leave her apartment and hits Caleb on the head, rushing to stop Ava.  Ava and Kyoko kill Nathan, and in the process Kyoko is destroyed.  Ava repairs herself, resembling a human woman, and leaves Caleb trapped inside the facility.  She escapes to the real world in a helicopter. 

Themes and Analyses:


Alex Garland specifically toys with gender in “Ex Machina.”  By making Ava female and using feminine pronouns, Garland comments on not only gendering but the sexualization of young women.  Garland demonstrates social hierarchies of gender by questioning what it means to be a creator and how the gender of this creator affects the gender and sexualization of the machine.  For example, at one point Nathan says “im like her dad.” In this way the power structure between omnipotent creator and creation becomes not only a sexual relationship but also a fatherly one.  As Ava dresses she demonstrates a childish wonder and while she undresses, the object of sexual attraction.  In this way, Garland explores the relationship between a powerful being, in this case male, and an initially vulnerable being, in this case female. 



Garland also explores sexualization of young women.  In an interview, he states, “when it comes to sexuality, there's a different thing going on. Essentially, what it's about is, the fetishization of girls in their early 20s. Now, that's not really about gender — it's a completely separate issue.” (Alex Garland)  One sees this explored in the film when Nathan says about Kyoko“gets ya right up in the morning.” This is also explored when Ava asks Caleb “are you attracted to me” and manipulates him by using bother her gender and sex appeal into thinking they’re in a strange loving relationship. 


Gaze Theory

As Wikipedia defines it, “The male gaze is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. The phrase male gaze was coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975.”  The male gaze in cinema allows one to see a furthering of Garland’s exploration of gender.  Both Caleb and Nathan are constantly watching Ava.  Caleb thinks himself superior to Nathan, however, he too gazes at Ava and finds her sexually appealing.  Scopophilia is when looking itself is a source of pleasure and in reverse there is pleasure in being looked at as well.  Caleb enjoys watching Ava, Nathan watches Caleb, and Ava knows that she is being watched and manipulates Caleb through his gaze.


Work Cited

"Ex Machina (film)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

 "Male Gaze." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Mar. 2017. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

 "Ex Machina: A Feminist Sci-Fi Thriller." Geek and Sundry. N.p., 22 May 2015. Image. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

-Ali Maas

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