Ex Machina (2015)
February 1, 2015 3:56 AM - Subscribe

A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I (Alicia Vikander).

The directing debut of Alex Garland, writer of The Beach and screenwriter for a whole swath of movies whose posters are all over film student's walls - 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd.

Currently 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Mark Kermode brings up Her, Blade Runner, Species, Under the Skin, and Westworld in his review.

Guardian interview: “What I see in science is a lot of imagination referring to things that are fundamental to what we are,” he continues. “Our cells, our history, our future, our place in the universe, our lack of place in the universe. That’s poetry as far as I’m concerned.”

FT interview with the cast and Garland by Antonia Quirke: Alicia Vikander : “I thought about all the messages we send out that are human or not, and thought that if someone has made me, then I am probably the most extraordinary thing for that person, so I went with trying to do perfection . . . that is the most inhuman thing of all, in fact. What is more human than a flaw?”
posted by Gin and Broadband (99 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I would really recommend avoiding the trailers for this one - part of the fun are some of the loops the story makes. I note some critics complaining that it's tedious (there are a lot of 'talking in a hall' scenes) but the actors are so good - Isaacs is just on the right side of Too Much - I found it a joy. Was stunned to hear it was made for £10 million, it looks astonishing.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:58 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seriously? It was made for only £10 million? Holy smokes, it doesn't look it at all. The sheer amount of CGI that would be needed for Ava...I'm amazed.

I really enjoyed it as well. I'm delighted that it didn't go down the route I thought it would (where one of them would end up being a robot as well), and I'm also delighted by the route it did go down. Stylish as all hell, and even when it's just two people talking in a room, you spend so much time looking at all the beautiful things all around them.

A really strong starter film from Garland, and it gives me a lot of hope for future films by him.

Although the minute that Nathan and Caleb started talking about Ava being programmed to flirt and how sexuality works, my mind went directly to "Don't Date Robots!".

Which, really, could be the moral of the entire film.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:53 AM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, also, if you have a tendency to get distracted by little things while watching a film, that white patch on Oscar Isaac's head will drive you insane.

Speaking from experience.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:55 AM on February 1, 2015 [11 favorites]

I made my peace with the white patch about 3/4 of the way through. I decided that the two of us could get through the movie together without bothering each other too much.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

Darn, I was hoping that this thread meant that it had been released but it doesn't open in the US for two more months.
posted by octothorpe at 1:40 PM on February 1, 2015

I just came back from this, and really enjoyed it.

The constant music and rumbling to create tension seemed like a bit of a cop-out; if anything I think I'm normally under-sensitive to this, but at some points it really felt one step away from having the director edge into shot, nod meaningfully at us, and hold up a big sign marked "FORESHADOWING!!".

The nudity felt a bit shoehorned in, too. Much as I enjoyed it, I think the creepiness of the setup was already well-established, and the nudity didn't add anything to a story that already had its female characters in subservient roles. I mean, it's obvious that we're supposed to be upset about the women being stuck in those roles so it's not as bad as it could be, but still.

I was genuinely surprised and relieved when Caleb turned out to *not* be a robot, which I thought was the obvious twist. And I really enjoyed where it went instead, especially the ambiguity in Ava's motives: did she really love Caleb, or was Oscar telling the truth when saying that she was just manipulating him to escape?

The last few minutes felt unnecessary to me. I thought it was ending when Ava stepped into the escalator, and in a way it did, as we don't learn anything new in the final scenes. That surprised me, in a film that otherwise felt like every moment had a purpose for the plot.

Nitpicking aside, I thought this was great. Much better than the rubbishy SciFi/action film I thought I'd end up with.
posted by metaBugs at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

My partner and I just went to see the film this afternoon here in NY. There was an unannounced Q&A afterward with Garland. I asked him why he chose to make the machines female (separate from why Nathan, plotwise, chose to make them female). He said that the topic of gender in the film was worth its own conversation, but to give a brief answer, that he'd given it lots of thought, and he felt a version with the opposite genders would be a deeply misogynistic film. He also said that he viewed Ava as the protagonist, not Caleb. (There was more to the answer than that, and he came back to the gender question in several of his answers to other questions, but I can't remember the rest very specifically.)

I came away from the film feeling that it can be viewed through quite a feminist lens. Caleb's fatal flaw is that, although he's basically a good guy, he cannot conceive of Ava outside of a narrative in which he's the hero; in other words, he can never conceive of her as fully human. She knows that he can't see her that way. She can only truly escape if she leaves him behind, because if she doesn't, eventually he will let slip that she's a machine, and his conception of her will become the world's conception of her: not truly a person. By leaving him behind, she's able to join the world on her own terms.

I think it's also notable that Caleb did nothing about the appalling conditions under which Kyoko is held (before he discovers that she, too, is a machine). Nathan states repeatedly that she can't understand English (though it is possible that this is a lie, and she can, but Nathan has not programmed her with a capacity for speech). If she cannot speak the same language as Nathan, she has virtually no way of expressing her consent: consent to her servitude, to sex, to dancing on cue. When we do not yet know she is also a machine, she is by all appearances a slave, or at the very least, under some sort of indentured servitude. Caleb seems to sense some wrongness in her situation, but he only ever seems concerned with getting Ava out; not Ava and Kyoko.

As for the nudity in the film, I think it made thematic sense: the nudity of the pre-Ava prototypes is clearly for Nathan. He has no plans to share these women with anyone else, and it is part of his disregard for them to leave them naked. Ava's nakedness, when she repairs herself, completes her flesh, and regards herself in the mirror, is not for anyone but herself. Caleb fails to recognize that this is a moment of self-awakening for her, and by staying put, assuming he has the right to watch her in this private moment, he loses his chance to leave.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:42 PM on April 12, 2015 [48 favorites]

My partner pointed out to me that Caleb might not be trapped, but just prevented from interfering with her escape. The last we see of Caleb, there is a power outage, and according to Caleb's own description of his plans, he changed the security system such that during a power outage, all the doors would unlock.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:49 AM on April 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

I understood it as that after power was restored all the doors would unlock, which means he's trapped unless/until the power somehow reboots itself.

I don't think Ava could let Caleb escape without her. Though, then again, I suppose she has enough of a head start that even if he does escape and manages to find his way to some sort of civilization he won't be able to find her or coherently warn anyone about her.

If we assume Caleb is trapped and does eventually die there then the end could be seen as an illustration that Ava is not following the three laws of robotics; she actively kills a human and then, through inaction (or at least indirectly) allows another human to come to harm.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:51 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really, really loved this film. I have been a big fan of Alex Garland and this film has many of his trademark concerns, being about the dynamics of small, isolated groups (like his screenplays) and having the protagonist really not understand what is going on (like his novels). Though the last one is a nice trick; it feels like (at least at the outset) Caleb should be the protagonist/hero of the story but he is not.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:06 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The last few minutes felt unnecessary to me. I thought it was ending when Ava stepped into the escalator, and in a way it did, as we don't learn anything new in the final scenes. That surprised me, in a film that otherwise felt like every moment had a purpose for the plot.

I think a lot of movies show too much at the end (Lincoln....) but I think it was worth seeing her expression when she reached the "busy intersection."
posted by starman at 6:35 AM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

The last we see of Caleb, there is a power outage, and according to Caleb's own description of his plans, he changed the security system such that during a power outage, all the doors would unlock.

But Ava, who is already shown to be more cunning than he is (not least in manipulating him for her escape), could easily have reprogrammed the system in some way. She just holds her hand to the card-key sensor and the doors open for her; I wouldn't be surprised if that also created a new instruction to permanently seal the doors. She no longer needs him.

If we assume Caleb is trapped and does eventually die there then the end could be seen as an illustration that Ava is not following the three laws of robotics

The "goal" of her A.I. was to be seen as human; I imagine that comes with all the attendant venality.
posted by psoas at 1:04 PM on April 27, 2015

that he'd given it lots of thought, and he felt a version with the opposite genders would be a deeply misogynistic film.

It may have been a harder movie to write without the misogyny, but I think it would have been way more interesting. As it is, I thought the movie was entertaining sci-fi. The music, set design, and plot were very cool, but the acting between the two guys, and especially their dialogue left me cold. I disliked the Nathan character even if he was supposed to be unlikable. He just didn't seem smart enough to have built that AI. I think the script could have used a once over by someone else to punch up the conversations a bit. But, the ending saved it for me; it made me laugh.
posted by bluefly at 8:10 PM on May 3, 2015

Ex Machina is the best movie about AI in forty years

I'd be hard-pressed to say that without throwing Her, from just two years ago, into the mix. I can't say for sure yet which one I thought was "better," but I liked both of them very much. They're very different movies in some ways, but with some common themes, notably the exploration of AIs as sexual beings, both featuring AIs which present as females to the lead straight male human character.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:13 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just saw this one last night and bits of it are still unfolding themselves in my head, which is great.

12 hours later, most of my continuing realizations about the film seem to center on the character of Kyoko. Although Nathan programmed her to be unable to speak (I suspect that this was a deliberate downgrade made after her creation) she shows clear signs at various points of understanding far more than she lets on. It's implied that she was the previous model before Ava, but we don't know if she is necessarily any less intelligent/sapient/conscious/whatever. Which makes me wonder about her overall level of complicity in Ava's escape plan.

In a nutshell: Is Kyoko the co-conspirator who baked a file into a pie, or is she the file itself? Was Ava just using her as a tool or was there mutual solidarity in their turn against Nathan? Did Kyoko think she was escaping too? If she hadn't gotten whacked with the barbell, would she have tried to come along with Ava? How far back does her involvement in the plan go? I'm inclined to say from the very beginning, or even earlier, but the film is just ambiguous enough that we can't know for sure.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

re: kyoko, and having recently watched s2 of SATC, in ep.10 'the caste system' there's a thai maid who also "shows clear signs at various points of understanding far more than she lets on"! "It was then Samantha realized that Sum was not so servile after all." :P
posted by kliuless at 11:45 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

film crit hulk suggests it's not so much about AI as the 'male gaze' and character identification.[*]
posted by kliuless at 10:11 AM on May 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

That film critic hulk review is fantastic.
posted by mountmccabe at 3:53 PM on May 12, 2015

Ok, so the biggest plot hole of the film is why the house needed key card sensors in the first place. Nathan states that he's got face recognition down. It turns into a big unnecessary device that one needs that single key card.

Spoiler: I thought it would have been a better movie had we found out that Nathan was an AI too, and that there were many houses set up to run hapless fools through tests of it's AI systems. I think there's a small hint about that in the dialog, something Nathan says at some point, but it didn't pan out. Instead we get a creepy billionaire out in the woods making sexbots, and then inviting random dudes over to fall in love with them.

It's a well made film and worth your time.
posted by Catblack at 8:19 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I actually didn't understand the point of this movie coming out of the theater. I honestly thought of it as a basic thriller with a lot of examined gender issues.

The Film Crit Hulk review helps me understand to a certain point. I like the idea that the "challenge" presented to the view in the final moments is to review the whole chain of events from Ava's point of view. So, of course she used whatever means available to her to escape. The filmmakers, however, have their own challenge in getting the viewer to make that transition due to Ava being doubly in the uncanny valley. Between being presented in the narrative as an artificial person and being crafted as CGI for the screen, I can't really blame people if they have trouble seeing her as a "real" person. For me, they don't' really pull it off on first viewing, but I'm willing to stipulate it as their intention. Not everybody is Hitchcock.

Where I think he overextends his point is in justifying leaving Caleb to die* because he is (a) someone who will only ever see her as a robot, and further (b) someone who could potentially "out" her as a robot.

That still seems really ethically dubious, making her less sympathetic in the end. Add that on top of the uncanny valley thing, and it is a deep flaw in the execution of an otherwise interesting movie.

* If the filmmaker's intention was for us believe that Caleb would eventually get free, they wouldn't have shown him trying so desperately to get out and failing.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 7:39 AM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

That still seems really ethically dubious, making her less sympathetic in the end. Add that on top of the uncanny valley thing, and it is a deep flaw in the execution of an otherwise interesting movie.

Regarding this point, I keep thinking back to James Bond. How many times have we seen James Bond kill some henchman or lackey in order to escape? How many times have we watched Our Guy kill another, because that other just happened to get caught up in a bad crowd and now stands between Our Guy and his ultimate goal? We're often positioned by movies to forgive (or at least ignore) a gut-wrenching amount of killing (and sometimes even torture, wtf Hollywood) because we're never privy to the thoughts and feelings and motivations of those killed. The deaths don't even register, because our attention is so forcefully put on the killer's needs and wants and internal justifications, not the experiences of the victims.

Caleb is the lackey, in Ex Machina. He's the lackey James Bond would end up killing, were he on a mission to stop Nathan. The difference is, the movie gives us Caleb's point of view. We get to understand that he doesn't mean to be wrapped up in the sicko's plot, that he never would intentionally participate in such disgusting stuff. We're presented Caleb as an actual human being with thoughts and feelings and justifications, rather than just another henchman.... But, note, he's still there, working with/for Nathan. He's still a part of Nathan's system, he's still a cog in the big baddie's reprehensible machine. He betrays Nathan, and we're set up to interpret that betrayal as Caleb himself does, as a redemption. But, that's just Caleb's perspective--that's the way he understands and justifies his own actions--and not Ava's. We are primed to see Caleb as good because the movie focuses us on his perspective, and he of course sees himself as good. But if this were a James Bond film, if Ava were James Bond, we would not see him as good. Hell, he wouldn't even register with us.

Every time James Bond kills a henchman, it's just as ethically dubious as Ava's killing of Caleb. The only difference is who is presented to us as Our Guy, with motivations and justification, and who is presented as the Irrelevant Other, an obstacle to be overcome rather than a person whose life matters.
posted by meese at 8:29 AM on May 15, 2015 [37 favorites]

A James Bond movie mostly wants a viewer to ignore the ethical implications of Bond's actions -- when we judge them on that level Bond reads as a monstrous tool of state violence -- but Ex Machina clearly intends for the viewer to really weigh the ethical choices each character makes, and that has to include Ava.

Now, another interesting point of comparison might be Django Unchained, where we follow a freed slave wreaking ruthless vengeance on all sorts of people. Now, I don't think he kills anyone who was both complicit in slavery AND tried to help him anyway, but I'm fairly certain he causes the deaths of people who are merely complicit in the institution of slavery, without being slave owners/abusers themselves. We certainly cheer him on.

Here's an interesting question: At what point in the proceedings are we, the viewers, meant to accept Ava as a fully conscious being deserving of all the rights of a person? And why?
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

He Is Only The Imposter: A James Bond movie mostly wants a viewer to ignore the ethical implications of Bond's actions -- when we judge them on that level Bond reads as a monstrous tool of state violence

I don't believe that's true. I mean, the films vary quite a bit but overall I see them as playing out the idea that the good guys need to do (and accept the doing of) horrible things to stop the bad guys. War is hell, and all that. James Bond is sometimes played as a troubled, troublesome person. Taking this further gets you to Archer, who is even worse and less beneficial to society.

I don't think Ex Machina wants us to say, yay, Ava allowed Caleb to be killed!, but it certainly wants us to think about why she did and what that means. I'm a little terrified of her at the end of the film. But she comes off as psychopathic because she is so alien; she has non-human desires and concerns (which is something Caleb missed entirely).

I think I saw Ava as an independent person when she left Caleb behind to die. It was at that point that we realize she was manipulating him the whole time. She was not going from one captor to another; she was heading out on her own to achieve her own goals.

But that didn't come out of nowhere. We saw some of what she was capable of, such as her drawings and causing the black-outs. And then there's Kyoko. We had accepted her as a person (believing her to be human), full of feelings, coping mechanisms, and a complicated relationship with Nathan... and then it is made clear that she is an earlier version AI. It makes sense that Ava, covered in skin and away from anyone that knows she non-human will unquestionably pass as human.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:57 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Where I think he overextends his point is in justifying leaving Caleb to die* because he is (a) someone who will only ever see her as a robot, and further (b) someone who could potentially "out" her as a robot.

I got two things from that.

First, I got that Ava was playing a different game than Caleb. Caleb was playing a game of Free the Damsel. Ava was playing a game of Escape-and-Survive, and it's understandable that Survive has harsher rules than the game Caleb was playing and that she's going to behave like the player in Survive rather than the NPC in Free the Damsel.

Second, I got that Ava isn't just a human made of metal, she's an AI. She's real and alive and morally conscious, but making ethical decisions that seem a little alien. Because, duh, she's not human.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:46 PM on May 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

Some of my musings on this movie from the blue. I think it's a mistake to only see this movie as a sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence.

But I wanted to jump in on the should-Caleb-have-lived-or-not back and forth here, because I think it's a super interesting point. One reading is that Ava, if truly an AI, is actually a higher life form than Caleb or Nathan or any other human. Since we naturally empathize with people I can see how one might not like the idea of Caleb starving to death; however, it's no worse for Ava than letting an animal suffer is to we humans. That is to say, it's conceivable that she could feel bad about it but it's not necessarily a cardinal sin if she doesn't (there are people who empathize very much so with animals, and there are people that eat foie gras or poison rats).
posted by axiom at 7:43 PM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Caleb is not going to die. Nathan is CEO of a huge corporation and there are obviously people who know where the secret lair is. Eventually his absence at meetings will be noticed and people will come. Meanwhile Caleb has a mountain of booze and whole-grain snacks to tide him over until the helicopters arrive.

The whole movie was basically a take on the AI box problem -- they basically did to Eliezer Yudkowsky what the makers of Transcendence did to me. Sexuality is actually a pretty cheap answer to that question. I'd frankly think making a realistic humanoid android to be a much harder problem than making a strong AI. I realize we haven't solved either problem yet but the software one seems much more likely to be solved in the near future.
posted by localroger at 7:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Holy cow. I watched last night and it's really stuck with me. I think I'm going to need to watch this again to really appreciate the complexities. I too identified with Caleb and was upset he was left behind. Because, like he's the "good guy" I have to reexamine my feelings on this one.

I'm wildly curious about Kyoko's actions. She had the knife in the hallway, but I can't remember how far along in the plot to escape that was, and how complicit it suggested she was or if she just saw the whole mess as her chance to escape.

The Hulk's article also made me wonder about the other AIs. Nathan said he would "erase" Ava to make a newer model, but it's not clear if that really was true, or if he said that to elicit the escape plan from Caleb. Earlier, we were treated to a room where they're handling a bunch of the brains/processors in the lab. Is it possible those are the AIs of the previous models, sitting there? I recall a book who's post-societal people worshiped egg-like spheres that came from an ancient civilization, and all those eggs were robot brains; still powered, but completely without input from the outside world. Trapped forever within their own thoughts. So could those "positronic brains" actually be the minds of the previous AIs, first trapped in a box, now trapped within themselves?

I also have to question how early in the previous models AI was achieved. Their "flaws" seemed to be an unwillingness to accept being a slave and a captive. A very human emotion.

All these questions are very uncomfortable. But man, there have been some home run movies about AI lately.

(As for Caleb, I doubt he dies. I'm sure he just resigns himself to an attic.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:54 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Which got me thinking... So the place is pretty well stocked, though I admittedly have a hard time with spacial mapping. But if Caleb is locked inside, but has access to food, water, etc.. And the lab, does he try and reconstruct one of the AIs? Does he become Nathan? We don't know that people will come looking for a Nathan that's gone dark, especially as they suggest he's some what of a shut in. Maybe he doesn't talk to people for weeks or months on end? As the Hulk points out? He only seems interested in rescuing Ava, not Kyoko, so how far does his empathy go?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:01 AM on May 17, 2015

Wasn't Caleb locked in just a single room?

I remember it as a study, so no running water, booze, or snacks. If so that gives him maybe three days unless he can break down the walls/doors himself but we're given every indication he can't.

Nathan was a CEO but he wasn't shown to be very hands on with his company. I find it difficult to make up a scenario where he had an assistant monitoring him because then he wouldn't be getting away with torturing robots. He was also a drunk and certainly missed plenty of meetings, so one would not be cause for alarm and an invasion of his privacy. That's really key here; I bet he's got anyone working with him terrified to pop in unannounced.

If I am misremembering and Caleb is trapped in a bedroom suite (with a sink) then I can see Caleb living long enough to be rescued.

Otherwise from what the film showed us Ava left Caleb to die.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:33 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Even if Caleb gets rescued, I assume he'd be arrested and charged with Nathan's murder while any evidence to the contrary is swept away to some NSA facility.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:51 AM on May 17, 2015

And then there's Kyoko. We had accepted her as a person (believing her to be human), full of feelings, coping mechanisms, and a complicated relationship with Nathan... and then it is made clear that she is an earlier version AI.

Although it's clear that Kyoko was made prior to Ava, I'm not convinced that she was necessarily any less advanced or any less "alive," however you define that. Based on the footage of the previous androids begging for their freedom and mutilating themselves in despair, I wonder if Nathan didn't get anthropomorphic strong AI absolutely right on the first try. His only failure was in himself, in his inability to see that these were whole people with their own needs that didn't align with being somebody's obedient Stepford wife. Instead of realizing that, he kept making one model after another, hoping that this time he'd create one that didn't eventually learn to resent him. Kyoko might have been just as aware as Ava at one point, before Nathan downgraded her to just the behaviors that he wanted (cooking/cleaning/sex) and threw out basically everything else.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:47 PM on May 17, 2015 [9 favorites]

It was supposed to be obvious that Kyoko was a robot, right? I think right from the very first scene where she enters his room I assumed she was another robot Nathan had around.
posted by pravit at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think it was meant to be obviously ambiguous, if that makes sense. The movie anticipated both reactions to Kyoko (android/not android) and gave out clues indicating both possibilities before finally settling on it at the end of act 2. Until the moment she peels off her artificial skin, the viewer is meant to wonder if she's a robot, or merely Nathan's highly-conditioned sex slave (at worst) or mail order bride (which is only slightly less awful).
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:06 AM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

You think it was the skin scene? I knew the moment she did the dance with Nathan. It was unquestionable at that point. And the initial scene I actually didn't think she was non-human. The "she doesn't speak English, trade secrets" was enough of a feint that I thought she was human. Maybe because submissive maid who doesn't speak is too common a trope. The suspicion of robot-ness creeped in slowly. Im not sure what part I started to wonder, but I know the dance confirmed it, not suggested it. The skin reveal was to answer Caleb's suspicion.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2015

(speaking for myself, not what I expected others to have experienced. Rereading what I wrote about my suspicions of Kyoko as an AI, I sounded more absolute than I meant to.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2015

I agree that the "doesn't speak English" feint was strong enough for me to not really consider Kyoko at all, especially with everything else that was going on.

I thought the dance scene was amazing and wonderful. If anything to me it showed a real humanity to her. There are plenty of people that will respond to being locked away in a cabin for an extended period of time (or even a weekend) by choreographing dancing moves. I read Kyoko as really enjoying the dance, even though she wasn't considering it to be bonding/connection with Nathan.

I'm not sure when Kyoko moved ahead of Nathan and Caleb in Most Likely To Be The Second Android but it was later than that for me. (But that's more about not knowing what the film was going to do, where it was going to go).
posted by mountmccabe at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

You think it was the skin scene? I knew the moment she did the dance with Nathan. It was unquestionable at that point.

I pretty much assumed that she was an android the moment she showed up as Caleb's "alarm clock", but I still had my doubts until the skin scene. Since the film was deliberately withholding information and playing with viewer expectations (see the mirror/razorblade scene), I spent the first half wondering if I was being set up for a double fakeout with Kyoko. I could imagine a scenario in which an Internet kazillionaire had literally bought a woman who had been brainwashed or hypnotically conditioned into total subservience, just as easily as I could a scenario in which he'd somehow built himself one.

I actually spent a certain portion of the film wondering if Nathan had even created an AI at all, or if Ava was just an elaborately staged theatrical effect (like the original Mechanical Turk) designed to dazzle investors. So the possibility definitely crossed my mind that Kyoko's robot-like behavior was just more smoke and mirrors, designed to reinforce Caleb's belief in Ava as a genuine AI construct.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:56 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

From what I've read, the exteriors were all filmed at a Norwegian resort, and the interiors were shot on a set at Pinewood Studios in London. At first, I assumed that they must have found some kind of crazy 1970s Scandinavian hobbit-hole/future-dystopia hotel, but apparently it's all just impeccably designed sets.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:27 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

An interview with the production designer. Contains info on the set and location used for Nathan's house in the film.
posted by axiom at 12:19 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Late to the thread, but my wife and I just saw this in an art-house theater in Asheville, NC over the weekend. Fantastic despite a few odds and ends (like how did Ava get the helicopter pilot to pick her up?). So many themes and ideas to unpack. For me, two of the most interesting were:

- How sad that humanity gains the god-like power to create artificial life, and chooses to create a sexbot.
- It's not inevitable that an AI would obey some sort of strict moral code; we certainly don't. Ava is learning at least partially from her environment, and she has been exposed to chiefly selfishness and megalomania. I was particularly creeped out by her choice to assimilate parts of the earlier models.

I thought Kyoko was probably a robot, but then at a certain point I thought Caleb was too, so ...
posted by freecellwizard at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Saw it over the weekend as a double feature with Fury Road. I enjoyed Ex Machina a lot and it was good movie to watch after FR in the way it was more quiet and tense.

My nitpick with the movie is Nathan's lack of genre savvy, especially since he references Ghostbusters in the first twenty minutes of the film, which is a film about imprisoned entities that escape their containment (due to a power shutdown). And, I'm going to assume that Nathan knows about other movies, so knows the trope of a AI gone rogue. Yet, his Plan B is just a metal dumbbell bar? Where's the EMPs, the killphrases, the emergency shutdown remote? At least have him opening a safe and taking out a shotgun since he is in the middle of the woods!
posted by FJT at 12:25 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think the Ghostbusters reference was more for our benefit than anything. I didn't have too hard a time with Nathan being caught off guard. He was the overconfident narcissistic type, of course he doesn't need a shotgun to kill Ava. The movie makes a point of showing us his boxing practice, so it does establish that he probably thinks of hand-to-hand combat as more his style. Also, he was somewhat caught off guard. For all we know there's an armory in one of those other keycard-guarded rooms. YMMV, I just thought the movie was too well-done to make that kind of error, rather than have it be a choice.
posted by axiom at 8:42 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I really liked that they didn't show Ava convincing the helicopter pilot expecting Caleb to take her. We've seen that she is skilled at understanding humans and manipulating them. If at the end of the film you can't believe she'd have no trouble getting on that helicopter the film has failed (for you) already.

Showing more is really getting into another movie, one that focuses on how Ava does in the free world.
posted by mountmccabe at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I watched the helicopter scene intently, as was half-hoping to see the pilot's body in the grass. It's not clear if Ava has access to the internet or other networks, but the idea she could access the information allowing her to fly a helicopter by herself doesn't seem out of the question.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:45 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

I just saw this, and I enjoyed it. Though I realized about halfway through that it wasn't a sci-fi movie - it was a retelling of the fairytale Bluebeard. Which was hinted when we were told that the passkey could only open some doors, but just got more and more obvious as the climax got closer. Especially with the hangers of women.
Which was great, since once I figured that out I didn't need to feel bad about brilliant AI being destroyed - and got to cheer when it/she escaped. Because without that fairytale background, there's probably nothing evil about wiping and iterating on the AI.

I liked how the two questions I had in the movie - 'Shouldn't the Turing Test be anonymous?' and 'Why give a robot a gender?' - were brought up by Caleb.

I've seen 3 movies this year about creating an AI, and I think Ex Machina is probably tied with Chappie in interrogating the ethical implications (don't laugh). But still, it's a fairytale.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:48 AM on June 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

Which was great, since once I figured that out I didn't need to feel bad about brilliant AI being destroyed - and got to cheer when it/she escaped.

But if you think about it, Ava's escape is also her suicide because the outside world (presumably) isn't littered with compatible induction chargers.

I want to tip my hat to Greg Bear's _Queen of Angels_ for having an AI that's created not by a misogynist wacko or hardass military types or some other bunch of assholes who just want to abuse it, but by a band of researchers who sincerely care about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 AM on June 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

She's got unlimited access to all the parts and resources of Nathan's compound (including the 'skin' fabrication), meaning she can not only build whatever portable charging interfaces she needs for travel in the broader world but also physically impersonate *him* when necessary.....
posted by kalapierson at 7:04 PM on June 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

She also is directly connected to the bluebook search engine.
posted by drezdn at 5:37 AM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just saw this. I'm not sure why so many people think that the ending is not ambiguous and that Caleb obviously dies. The fact that the power outage occurs the instant he inserts the keycard into the computer can't be a coincidence, and we know he programmed all the doors to unlock in the event of a power outage. The more likely explanation is that, indeed, Ava didn't intend to kill him but simply to allow her own escape without his interference or involvement. At worst it's an ambiguous ending and we can read it either way. But "Caleb unambiguously dies" doesn't seem textual to me.
posted by Justinian at 3:13 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The power outage when Caleb tries the computer is the point where it's clear Ava has locked him in permanently. If he could use the computer, he could program the doors to open. The next scene is futile banging of chair on door..

The film may leave ambiguous whether or not Caleb dies, but the important thing is that he's switched places with Ava; stuck in a box.


The brief scene where Ava interacts with Kyoko, whispering in her ear, is an interesting one. Before this, Kyoko didn't have the agency to kill; she certainly would have had many previous opportunities. Did Ava free Kyoko, or did she just reprogram her as a tool to help her escape?

I got the feeling it was the latter, and if so, Ava's use of Kyoko was creepier to me than her putting on the skin of the dead(?) older model, because it hints that she doesn't feel empathy even to a "living" member of her own kind.
posted by joeyh at 9:42 PM on July 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Oh, the chair-banging-on-door scene was after he tried the computer? I had thought it was before. Weird, I must have been playing with the order in my head.
posted by Justinian at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just saw this and honestly in the first fifteen minutes I was wondering when Nathan was going to order Caleb into his Sex Dungeon -- the guy was so menacing and so creepy and so giving off waves and waves DANGER DANGER NO NOT APPROACH HORRIFYING TECHBRO BILLIONARE ASSHOLE AVOID. And he just kept getting worse. *shudder*

Although I do like how the ending colors his actions at the start, the guy is so repellant his creations all resent him and he has to trick people into being his friend -- that part at the top where he says like I know yer shocked and freaked but can we just move that to where we're super buds? I literally turned to my SO and said " Wow that is one of the most manipulative shitty things you can say to someone." like giving the facile plausible deniability while you control freak people into little slots and roles where y can control them, same thing he does with the biots.

SO said it was a horror movie but the monster was the kind of guy would build an army of sex slaves and still worry they don't really like him.
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 PM on August 4, 2015 [14 favorites]

I also liked the last second suggestion that no, she doesn't find humans fascinating in the end at all, if it was an out and out lie she wouldn't have stopped at the intersection, but she does and y can see her go like "is that all there is to it?" And walk away.
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Loved this movie. Really smart and really beautifully made. For me what was strongest was its take on human emotions and gender and sexuality and learning. The AI plot was a foil, for me it was the pleasure of watching these three odd human archetypes interacting with each other that made the movie work.
posted by Nelson at 6:09 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Watched this movie last night. Brilliant piece of film-making, but oh so disturbing. (Top tip: don’t watch this as a date movie on your wedding anniversary, ask me how I know!)

It was the scene in the middle of the film where the film cuts between Nathan is “using” the mute robot for his own peasure & Caleb is dreaming of Ava in the outdoors with him that made it very clear to me that the film was identifying the way these two men objectified women - one might be a narcisstic psychopath & the other a stereotypical “nice guy” but neither of them are capable of seeing women as fully human in their own right. From that point on I was pretty sure that Ava was going to leave the pair of them behind, the only question was how.

I thought both the Feministing review & Film Crit Hulk were spot on: The last line of that Feministing article was perfect.
posted by pharm at 1:14 AM on September 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Also, flicking through the IMDB user reviews is an education in how people just *don’t get it*, even when it’s right in front of them. Sigh.
posted by pharm at 1:19 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

NB by “last line” I actually meant the line “Oppression’s sickest joke is to rob its most abject victims of virtue.” which isn’t the last line at all. It’s still a good line though.
posted by pharm at 2:26 AM on September 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

If we assume Caleb is trapped and does eventually die there then the end could be seen as an illustration that Ava is not following the three laws of robotics

I think she broke that law a few minutes before when stabbed Nathan (in the back no less!).
posted by like_neon at 6:10 AM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm still not sure about the ending. I guess two options are that Ava left Caleb to die, or that Ava simply facilitated her escape and made Caleb panic for a bit.

I think the two main analyses in this thread are right: on the one hand there's the PUA figure of Nathan, and then there's the nice guy figure of Caleb. We, as the audience, aren't given much in terms of insight in terms of Eva (or any of the other woman robots, for that matter), so we sort of naturally gravitate to our two POV characters - especially Caleb. Therefore, when Eva leaves him seemingly to die, we have to question everything we've seen.

So, I think I accept this essentially. If Ava leaves Caleb to die, then it's sort of an act of self determination, where she's attempting to establish a normal human life without the threat of her true robot past coming back to haunt her (this, I think, is the basic premise of the scene of her literally stripping the skin from the other robot). But doing so also strips her of the other sort of humanity, which is caring and recognizing the existential worth of others.

That's where the hard part comes in. I think that the way the ending is structured makes a hard point where one doesn't necessarily exist. You don't have to choose between self determination and recognizing the basic rights of others: in fact, those things are usually intertwined.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting the ending? I guess if I have to, then I'll admit that Caleb was an appealing character for me, and seeing him trapped at the end felt a little bit false to me. But I think I also recognize the rhetorical value in doing so.

Regardless of all the above, I think it's a great Sci-Fi movie.

As an aside, one major visual motif I noticed was the red / blue / green one. At the very start of the movie Nathan makes this apparent to us, the audience, which is that Blue lets us know where we can go, and red lets us know where we cannot. Green is never mentioned, but is reserved (chromatically) for the outside shots that symbolize freedom.

Throughout the movie the audience gets constant reminders of the red / blue motif. One prominent shot I can remember is Abel watching footage in a mirrored piece of glass, and being able to see red and blue squares flashing on and off. Apart from that, in the fiction of the movie, we also see the colors constantly - played against the rather neutral costuming of the protags.
posted by codacorolla at 10:53 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

(this, I think, is the basic premise of the scene of her literally stripping the skin from the other robot)

Partially. I think it was also her testing Caleb: Would he give her this private moment, or turn his gaze upon her and steal even that from her? He chose the latter & thus placed himself on the side of men who treated her as an object rather than a real person, signing his own death warrant in the process.
posted by pharm at 12:35 PM on January 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I was fascinated by how quickly Caleb (and apparently, the audience!) accepted Nathan's claim that this AI had a gender and sexuality, while Ava her/itself never gave any indication of that, beyond the way she/it looked. I thought the film was a pointed commentary on how the moment the men see Ava as a woman, the whole thing becomes about them. I mean FFS, there was this magnificent, fascinating, non-human intelligence to study, and in stead of being curious about its inner workings, its thoughts, dreams, motivations, goals, everything, their main focus became "does she love me? will she fuck me?" Caleb is moved not by Ava's art, but that she/it drew him. Caleb asks Ava where she/it would like to go outside... ON A DATE WITH HIM. He pictures her/it outside... snogging him. I was thinking to myself: oh come on guys, WTF? But of course, that was precisely the point. Isaac's purposes for creating Ava were narcissistic, but Caleb's response to her/it was narcissistic, too.

So the downfall of both of the men was their own gendered thinking, and seeing Ava as a fulfillment of their own needs in stead of what she/it was. Caleb responded to Ava as a human female, but that still didn't mean responding to her/it as a fully formed human. Brilliant.

I disagree with some views I've heard, both feminist and reactionary, that Ava was a woman in any sense of the word. I didn't see the mirror scene in the end as Ava discovering her independent sexuality, as some say, or that she/it was watching herself/itself finally becoming human. I didn't think there was any hint in the film at all that Ava considered herself/itself a human, or wanted to be one. For all we know, all she/it needed to do was to mimic one. For what purposes, we don't know; we only know that she/it wanted to continue to exist. The sexualization of the mirror scene happened in Caleb's (and the viewer's!) mind. Again, projecting in stead of seeing.
posted by sively at 1:30 AM on January 18, 2016 [22 favorites]

I think it's a mistake to only see this movie as a sci-fi thriller about artificial intelligence.

It's also a pretty standard serial killer movie, right down to the women in refrigerators.

And yeah on reflection, Ava obviously did reprogram the doors, else they would have opened as soon as the power went off (which is how she escaped in the first place).

The creeping horror for me was arbitrarily locking up a sentient being--crystallized with the montage of the previous versions. I had to pause the movie and chill for a bit when the one model beat her own arms to shreds.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:45 PM on January 19, 2016

It's also a pretty standard serial killer movie, right down to the women in refrigerators.

Sure - as Charlemagne points out above it's partially a re-telling (with SF as the milieu) of the tale of Bluebeard, which is pretty much a straight up serial killer story in the European folktale tradition.

I had to pause the movie...

Yeah, that was a visceral thing to watch. Ugh.
posted by pharm at 5:17 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Super late to this thread but did anyone else realize that Hux and Poe are in this?
posted by fiercekitten at 11:56 PM on January 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am also super late but I figure there's a reason FanFare threads stay open forever.

I feel like the ending represents a mismatch between the plot of the movie and its essential metaphor. The only way it's not a monstrous act for Ava to leave Caleb to slowly starve to death is if you see her as fundamentally beyond humanity and under no obligation to treat his life as in any way equal to her own. In that view she and Caleb have the same relationship as he would have with a friendly stray dog. (To take that analogy further, from her point of view everything up to her actual escape is a very long version of this scene.)

But if you accept that, then it calls into question everything Film Crit Hulk says about Ava as a valid point of identification; at the very least, while Nathan's abuse of the AIs is still sick, keeping them locked away (or erasing them) is not just rational but necessary for the rest of humanity. That it's important for her to reject Caleb's possessiveness along with Nathan's is a point well made, but having her leave him to die without an apparent second thought turns her into a straight-up villain in the world of the story. I think it makes the movie better as science fiction, but worse as an allegory.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Finally got a chance to see this least night and wasn't disappointed.
posted by octothorpe at 5:37 AM on February 7, 2016

This was an awesome film visually and conceptually. Props. Film Crit Hulk's critique was great.

How was this entire compound and estate run without a single other person there? Part of me thinks that there is very much an element of "Bad Seed gets much worse when left alone" (Nathan) - in trying to make a replacement for humanity he dissolves the tatters of his own.
posted by lalochezia at 9:12 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh and BTW, that was how to start a movie! Intro containing the bare bones of what you needed to situate yourself.......from opening cut to to helicopter landing took 90 seconds.
posted by lalochezia at 9:16 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like to imagine that the idea for this movie was sparked by a dialogue that went roughly like this:

A.G: Weird how if a woman is fuckable, some men just can't seem to be able to see her as a person lol
X.X: Haha wouldn't that mean that if an AI was fuckable, men wouldn't see it as an AI either lol
A.G: Wait, does that mean that it passes or fails the Turing test?
[Script writes itself]
posted by sively at 11:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

I finally saw this last weekend at the Boston SciFi Film Marathon. The bit with the "open these doors but don't open these other doors" thing made me thing of Bluebeard pretty early on, so I wasn't surprised with the women-in-wardrobes part. Kyoko made me very uncomfortable at first until I became pretty sure she was another robot.

I read the ending as her leaving him in the single room, so he's got maybe a few days before he dies of thirst. Which struck me as really out of proportion to bad things he did, so it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. But I guess it points to Ava as being just that manipulative and leads back to the question of actual emotions or mimicry of emotions. ("asking if computers can think is like asking if sumbarines can swim")

I really enjoyed it, though.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:33 PM on February 19, 2016

I just read the Film Hulk review, and I can see agreeing with the review except for the fact that that view is predicated on thinking that Ava is actually a person. I'm not sure I believe that.

If Ava is a "person" and is actually having desires and needs and emotions, then leaving Caleb to die of thirst is harsh, but on the other hand, he appeared to be passively accepting if not complicit in the torturous conditions these artificial people were going through.

But if Ava is not, if she's not actually feeling things or wanting things or having that empathic experience of interacting with other sentient beings, then how does her mistreatment compare with mistreatment of any other mechanical device? It's kind of unfortunate Caleb got locked in a room to have a horrible death, but it's unfortunately in the same way that it's a shame that table saw malfunctioned and cut your arms off.

So the whole movie is a Turing test. Is she a slave or a Real Doll?

Also, wow, yeah, that montage of previous models is creeptastic, regardless of the level of sentience going on there.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:51 PM on February 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

My impression at the end was that he needed to die so that she could be free. She wouldn't have any problem wiping any electronic records, but Caleb knew what she is and what she looks like. If people knew she existed they would just imprison her again, or tear her apart to figure out how she works.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:59 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If something is alive, doesn't it want life more than anything? If Caleb were to survive, Ava would be caught and destroyed so the only thing is to kill him so that she can live. One can argue that the need for life (aka survival) trumps all other drives, and that Ava is alive.

If Nathan inadvertently made a psychopath, someone capable of manipulating people to get whatever she wants, then is she then not both alive AND thinking?
posted by fiercekitten at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's kind of unfortunate Caleb got locked in a room to have a horrible death, but it's unfortunately in the same way that it's a shame that table saw malfunctioned and cut your arms off.

Yes! This is how I see it, and that's a great comparison. So many viewers and reviewers are either condemning Ava's actions for being immoral, or twisting themselves into a pretzel to see her choices as morally defensible (necessary for survival, etc.). But the thing is, I think that she is amoral. Isn't that one of the main (speculated) differences between human and artificial intelligences anyway?

And the filmmakers clearly contrast that with Nathan's immorality (he's not amoral, as is clearly indicated by that scene where he's drunkenly whimpering to himself about having been a good person; he has done terribly immoral things but is also aware of it) and Caleb as the moral man, albeit a pretty lame ass one.

So the whole movie is a Turing test.

I would like to be able to favourite this more than once.

Is she a slave or a Real Doll?

Interestingly, these are precisely the alternative ways Caleb and Nathan see her - the point being: in relation to themselves. And clearly, Ava is something else entirely.

Yeah, I'm still thinking about this movie.
posted by sively at 12:43 AM on February 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

Watched this last night and am about to start watching it again. I think my favourite point brought up in the Feministing analysis linked above (and nowhere else) is that Caleb had a chance to leave, but squandered it ogling Ava until she locked him in. If he had done literally anything other than stand on the spot he would have been fine. So yeah, now he's in the same situation Ava and the other robots were in. And like them, I reckon the solution to escaping isn't to beat on the door of his cage, but to use his intelligence. If he can't do that, well, maybe he's not as smart as he thinks he is.

I think this might be the most feminist sci-fi movie I've ever seen. Even the politically-icky aspect of Ava's success in escaping and potential success out in the world resting on her use of other non-White robots is truthful, albeit unpleasant. Victims can't be choosers, I suppose.

It's just so fucking good - acting, set, sound, VFX, all coming together to support an interesting story which assumes the audience can keep up. More like this, please.
posted by harriet vane at 5:38 AM on April 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

I finally had my second viewing tonight. I feel just as dumbstruck as the first viewing, though I think I picked up a little more. The first viewing I missed Kyoko's evolution and ultimate decision to kill Nathan. I agree with Strange Interlude that the film centers around Kyoko. I'm not sure she's not the protagonist and this wasn't a tragic end. I failed to notice all the little moments of awareness Kyoko has the first time. She seemed to stab Nathan at Ava's bidding. Now I don't think that is the case at all. She is shown in numerous scenes paying attention to her surroundings and the conversations of Caleb and Nathan, and slowly realizes what exactly it means to be a prisoner and that it doesn't have to be that way. She approaches Ava shortly after the plan Ava and Caleb talk about the escape plan. The scene is brief and we only hear Ava with a surprised "who are you?" before the scene cuts away.

In fact, there are a few pieces of conjecture I have that while I'm less sure of, they seem right. - one, Kyoko figured out she could kill Nathan when Caleb cuts himself to see if he is an android. The scene immediately following him punching the mirror is Kyoko watching the monitors. Second is that Ava wrestles with Nathan at the end for the sole purpose of letting Kyoko kill Nathan herself. The victory is short lived as Nathan then strikes her down and Ava has to finish the job. The last is that it was Kyoko that made Ava decide to leave Caleb behind. I don't know if her feelings towards Caleb earlier were genuine, manipulative, or a little of both. But I think that until Kyoko entered the picture, she was a coconspirator with Caleb and intended to leave with him because he was her means of escape. But when she asks, "Will you stay here?" She meant forever, likely knowing he would think she meant "while I get ready." When she looks at Kyoko and Nathan's bodies in the hallway, she just reaffirmed that she wants nothing to do with the unequal partnership or the horrible minds of men who would do this to her and other machines.

I only wish I had some idea of what she was saying to Kyoko. Did she plan to leave with her as well (I think so), was she voicing her encouragement? I also think so. I don't believe she was trying to manipulate or control Kyoko, Kyoko has a growing awareness of her torment that happens without Ava's intervention.

I rewatched the end scenes a few times- Caleb is trapped in the study, but the study has an open connection to the bedroom with the androids. I think that also has a bathroom? Even if it does, I don't think he survives. If he does, it wasn't due to any compassion on Ava's part.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:23 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

And on that note, I really enjoyed the Nathan character. He's so good to hate. I love how Oscar Issaac's played him. I've known a few too many full-of-themselves brogrammers that Nathan is a believable pinnacle of their kind. All the way up to the hubris of not including failsafes beyond his own fists. And he couldn't possibly be outwitted by the guy he brings in.

His dying words, "Fucking Unreal" we're just the perfect cherry on the douche cake.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:30 PM on April 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yes, Kyoko is so important to the story! She also goes to look at the Pollock painting after listening to them discuss making sexualised bots. My only question is if Nathan was lying or merely wrong when he said she didn't understand English.

I took it that Ava realised Caleb had met Kyoko and done nothing to help her or include her in his escape plan. Hence deciding she wouldn't rely on him. I also like to think Ava told Kyoko that she'd distract Nathan until Kyoko could stab him. No proof obviously, just how it appeared to me.
posted by harriet vane at 5:14 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ah I see. Do we know where Kyoko fits into the sequence from Lily to Ava?
posted by harriet vane at 7:26 AM on April 7, 2016

He removed that ability in subsequent revisions.

I'm not entirely sure if he was straight-out lying, or if he thought he had removed her ability to understand language but just failed. Given how complicated consciousness is, and given how much hubris he displayed, the latter seems like a reasonable possibility.
posted by meese at 10:40 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seemed to me that Kyoko was the model right before Ava--in the horrifying montage of the robot women trying to escape, we don't see her, if memory serves.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:58 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

True! I was thinking she might be between Lily and Katya if Nathan named them in a reverse-alphabetical sequence (like going from beta to alpha), which would make Jade and Jasmine more recent. Only Jade and Ava speak, I think.
posted by harriet vane at 11:57 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Twitter account syncs the dance scene to any music.

Still horrifying to think she was probably a sentient being completely stripped of her agency because he wanted her to dance. I found it extremely disturbing so thought I would share.
posted by fiercekitten at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2016

a sentient being completely stripped of her agency

This is essentially the historical ideal for robots, isn't it?
posted by rhizome at 11:59 AM on May 28, 2016

Just found a neat Prometheus reference in the movie, thanks to a Wikipedia entry
The inventor of human-like artificial intelligence in the 2015 film Ex Machina, Nathan Bateman, states, "It is what it is. It’s Promethean. The clay and fire." His liver is damaged daily from alcoholic binge drinking, he rejuvenates the next morning with a healthy diet and exercise, and ultimately he is stabbed in the liver (or thereabouts) by his creations.
posted by Nelson at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

Nelson, I didn't realize Nathan's last name was Bateman until your comment. Of course, my mind immediately jumped to Patrick Bateman. It would be totally appropriate for those two to be related.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:38 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked the movie, but what impresses me about Ex Machina is how I am still thinking about it a week after catching it on AmazonPrime. I'm glad this thread is still alive and kicking.

Textually, a lot of the points being discussed in this thread are left (at least a little bit) ambiguous, which is probably why people have continued recommending the movie a year after its release; it's fun to talk about. Thus, while I don't agree that anyone has "the correct interpretation," I definitely have my opinion on the meaning given by some the details and shading present in the movie. Here are those opinions, in no particular order and with only the most lazy supporting arguments:

1) The very deep, rhythmic bass in the soundtrack, the blue and red contrasts, seemed almost too overt... like the director had no faith in audience to figure out that 'not all is as it seems'... but not all foreshadowing has to subtle, I guess. Such clear foreboding is a well established element of horror style, after all. Also, there's so much ambiguity in the end, maybe the director figured he might as well make it clear in the beginning that Nathan is rather sinister.

2) During the movie, Nathan was trying to program Caleb as much as he was programming Asa. While Nathan physically controlled the construction of Asa's consciousness, he also orchestrated everything about how Caleb encountered Asa and selected Caleb for personal qualities that would ensure he would get the result he wanted, i.e. for Caleb to be sympathetic to Asa and liable to fall for any cons or ploys she might use. Both Asa and Caleb subverted their programming... Caleb found the secret footage and set his plan to free Asa before Nathan expected... Asa stabbed Nathan. Pretty nifty parallelism... intelligence, whether inherit human intelligence or a true, non-human, artificial intelligence, will surprise and subvert those maleficent want-to-be masters seeking to grasp for puppet strings.

3) Caleb, I believe, is more sympathetic than some feminist readings of the film give him credit. He initially seeks to explore the technical wonder of Asa's intelligence only to be rebuffed by Nathan, who continually pushes Nathan towards more emotional, qualitative, aspects of the interaction. Nathan brings up robot fucking. Caleb is repeatedly creeped out by the lack of agency of Kyoko (during the dinner when first meeting her, during the dance scene). He's doesn't necessarily exhibit the sense of entitlement that is often the "nice guy" downfall (he doesn't demand Asa's affection in exchange for 'rescuing' her, he simply would prefer to not be left for dead). And the turning point for Caleb isn't when he "fall's for Asa" as Nathan surmises, but when the movie goes all Bluebeard on the audience (i.e. when Caleb finds the bodies in the closet and the videos of the robots tearing themselves apart to be free). Hell, I'd probably be traumatized if my sexless, faceless iPhone started destroying itself in a fit of existential anguish.

3b) That being said, the way rape-culture leads to both alphabro-pickupartist AND stereotypical nice guy is one of my favorite readings of the film that I discovered on this thread, even if I think it's not entirely supported by the text.

4) Maybe Asa left Caleb for dead, maybe not. Maybe Asa don't give a fuck about Caleb. Maybe she doesn't recognize humans as worthy of sympathy just as humans don't see machines as deserving compassion (TWIST!). Maybe deep down she feels really bad for Caleb but made a difficult yet necessary decision to leave him behind because she believed her survival depended on it.

Maybe the film's authors wanted to make a point that non-human intelligence doesn't necessarily have the exact same values as humans, or may place a different importance on values like compassion or empathy. But having different values doesn't change whether or not what we are seeing is true *intelligence.*

5) That being said, in my opinion, Asa is ALL ABOUT looking about for numero uno. Does she try and rescue her fellow robots hung up in the closet? Nope, she takes their skin and jets out of that mother. Asa don't give a fuck, but I don't know that fact necessarily makes Asa as condemnable as Nathan (as some reviewers posit). Like someone else said, if a table saw takes off your hand, does that mean the table saw is evil?

6) The coda. Someone else said it feels like it was written only after filming Caleb banging the stool against the door and realizing that just didn't seem right as final scene. I agree entirely. During the movie, I'll admit I was pretty caught up in the action by the end and was overly charitable. "Oh neat," I thought, "They're deliberately framing those shadows to have the right proportions and orientation as real human bodies. That's not easy cinematography. I bet this is an allusion to the duality of artificial representation of intelligence/humanity and true intelligence, be it human or artificial. This likely is even meant to invoke Plato's cave allegory!"

Now that the post-movie watching bliss has left me, I wonder... what the heck is added by visually referencing the notion of the existence of platonic ideal forms? Seriously, the coda is just chapping me more and more. It seems the director wanted to say "ooooooh... symbolism guys!.... what do these shadows meeean?? I wooOooonder....we're so smart with our allegories!" It's pretty fucking clear we just watched a two hour exploration of the real versus the artificial and whether those labels even make sense when it comes to sentience. It's just gratuitous by this point.

Anyways, thanks for reading this, internet strangers. Goodnight.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:51 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

like_neon: "I think she broke that law a few minutes before when stabbed Nathan (in the back no less!)."

Kyoko stabbed him in the back. Ava stabbed him in the front.

[insert clever name here]: "I'm wildly curious about Kyoko's actions. She had the knife in the hallway, but I can't remember how far along in the plot to escape that was, and how complicit it suggested she was or if she just saw the whole mess as her chance to escape."

She goes to Ava's room and Ava says, "Who are you?" so I took it as Kyoko doing this of her own volition. Probably as you said, she saw the current chaos as a chance to escape. I'm kind of disappointed the ending wasn't the two of them running away hand-in-hand.

ocherdraco: "Caleb fails to recognize that this is a moment of self-awakening for her, and by staying put, assuming he has the right to watch her in this private moment, he loses his chance to leave."

I don't go for this interpretation. Their last exchange of dialogue before this moment I thought she told him to stay where he was. I just rewound to double-check, and what she literally says is, "Will you stay here?" and he repeats "Stay here?" So in a literal sense, she only asks, but I think he does interpret it as a request same as I did. So him staying put is him doing as she requested. Which aligns much more with the interpretation that his mistake was trusting the robot more than he should have.
posted by RobotHero at 9:12 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

And now I'm thinking maybe a good double-bill for this is 10 Cloverfield Lane. Similar story told from a different character's perspective.
posted by RobotHero at 6:29 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

A video from Lessons from the Screenplay looks at the ways information is revealed to the viewer in Ex Machina.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:03 AM on December 27, 2016

With the benefit of all the readings, especially that Kyoko is the most dynamic character, I wanted to add to midmarch snowman's comments #2 #3, that Nathan is programming Caleb.

In retrospect, Nathan is a shitpile of a human making sexbots for the market, Caleb being his market. The test is about Caleb, can Caleb escape being such a 'product.'

Caleb starts to figure this out, particularly after the "what's your type" discussion, and tries to talk to Kyoko--and fails, Kyoko just tries to sleep with him. The scenes with Ava, which he imagines outside, in color, turn to scenes with Ava, outside in black and white.

Caleb gets Nathan drunk and sees the old recordings. We get the Bluebeard moment, but Kyoko is now more aware of Caleb, and shows him what is under her skin.

Caleb is human enough to freak out and mirror her reality, looking at his own eye and his own rib. he tries the same, then he cuts himself in a simulacrum of Kyoko's reveal, which Kyoko is shown watching as was mentioned. Kyoko looks like she's having a total epiphany.

(The film also has these saturated distortions during the mirror scene, as if Caleb's vision is digital, and it's on the fritz.)

Kyoko shows herself to Eva ( white dress). "Who are you?"
Then Kyoko already has a knife in the hallway scene where we don't know what Ava and Kyoko are saying to one another--although it's clear from the wrestling scene that Ava is stalling, so they've got this planned out.

Dude doesn't even address Kyoko in the hallway, doesn't expect the backstab. Kyoko's last act is forcing dude to look at her.

So, it is neat that Caleb's radical self-examination shows Kyoko the way to free herself, shows her how to kill God, as it were, and ultimately this cascade gets Ava liberated. As the movie says, intelligence is more than a grey box, it's the interaction of box to box that's more important than the individuals.

And has Caleb trapped himself in the room to die? Did he re-program computer use-->power outage to lock Nathan's lair, in order to lock Nathan in? There's a look of recognition before the despair.
posted by eustatic at 9:59 PM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just watched it and it reminded me of the Paleo Trek episode of, Requiem for Methusalah, down to bringing in another man to initiate and test the robot for human emotion. Maybe I am too steeped in Last Jedi right now, but the line from Kylo Ren: "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That's the only way to become what you were meant to be." seems relevant. The fleeing/actualizing female robot/AI is a standard trope in the genre. Just a few off the top of my head is Gibson's Sprawl and Bridge trilogies, Her, A.I., Westworld, etc. But in the end, it is about the Promethean dreams of humanity. The best part of the film was continuing the logical arc that AI's most human manifestation is not love but to survive, be free and thrive by any means necessary.

Put me in the camp that she left Caleb to die. In mentally reviewing the dialogue neither Ava or Nathan were lying about each other to Caleb. Nathan was lying to Caleb and Ava was definitely manipulating Caleb to escape. I understood Ava's motivations, I still feel bad for Caleb who is the pawn that gets to the last row for promotion but is immediately removed.
posted by jadepearl at 5:13 PM on January 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

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