Film Reviews

Ex Machina (2015)


An awkward computer programmer finds himself involved in a dangerous game when he is invited to test the AI of a robot in a remote testing facility manned only by his sociopathic boss. 

Starring: Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac.

Writer/Director: Alex Garland

What I took from this film was so different from what my boyfriend saw in it, who watched it with me, that I started asking people what they took from it. It’s that kind of film.

Beautifully shot, and evenly paced, the first thing I noticed about it was that the main two characters are so awful. Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), the young coder selected to go to the facility, seems like such a loser, hanger-on type, wanting the boss to like him and being so easily manipulated. In contrast, the CEO of the company he works for, a Google-like business, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a classic sociopath, coming across as charming, in control, but slightly above everyone around him, testing them, teasing them, and changing the truth to put him in the best light. They’re basically both hipsters, and I hate hipsters.

Into this mix is introduced the AI machine of the title, Ava (Alicia Vikander), whose wide eyes and sweet face on a metal frame body make us wonder about what nature can be held within. Caleb is told that he is there to test the robot’s AI, whether she is truly intelligent, but the nature of that test seems fluid and non-empiric.

We soon discover that Ava can turn off the power to the facility for short periods of time, and uses this to initially communicate to Caleb that Nathan is dangerous and can’t be trusted. She’s also subtly flirtatious with Caleb, in a rather innocent way. She endeavours to make him see her as human and deserving of compassion, but from the second she started talking about dating… I was rolling my eyes. Isn’t this every American movie? The awful nerd, with the help of his cool friend, somehow gets a girl who is perfect, even though he has nothing to offer her and really is more interested in how she looks than who she is. The kind of guy that a gorgeous girl with self esteem would never look twice at.

The only other character is that of Kyoko (Soyona Mizuno), a beautiful, silent assistant to Nathan, who he treats worse than a servant. His treatment of her shows how he views women, though the proof of this is in his later actions in the story. The female characters in the film are his creations, who must treat him like their God, and be used, contained and tested and destroyed at his whim. What’s interesting is that he wants to create women in the image that he desires, and give them feelings or intelligence, only in order to abuse them.

Caleb is more compassionate, and yet he never loses the attitude that Ava is an object, something fascinating, beautiful, to be possessed and pitied, but he never seems to entirely engage with her or consider her feelings, unless they are the feelings she might have towards him. He never considers that watching her might be an invasion of privacy for her, for example.

Ava, then, is the most likeable character, and I felt concerned for her being under Nathan’s power. Or under Caleb’s, really. I don’t want to say more, in case I’m heading into any kind of spoiler territory. But what is happening to the women in this film is awful.

I guess that that makes it sound like the film is bad, but it’s actually incredible and very thought provoking. A lot of people I’ve talked to about this film were not on Ava’s side, but felt like her wide eyed innocence was hiding something more calculating, which shows you what I mean. The performances are incredible, the script is subtle, and the fact that you can read the film in different ways shows you that there’s a lot going on and a lot to talk about.

Personally, I felt on Ava’s side the whole time, but write a comment and let me know how you felt, what you thought and what you took from it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, see it. It’s not inaccessible nerd sci fi, but an interesting and suspenseful film that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions, though it’s not always comfortable viewing. 

Thought provoking, a sad indictment of the way women are viewed as objects and a great portrait of a sociopath. A really interesting film.

See it if: Just see it.


10 thoughts on “Ex Machina (2015)”

  1. I saw it just today, and only learnt of it through your recent review of another AI movie where you mention this one (I’ve been going through your reviews rather systematically after I watched Take Shelter and it blew me away. Obviously you are ON.)

    The ending is an obvious win for her so I cannot but be on the side of poor Caleb. Think of it: she was the result of his internet searches and porn viewings! There is no man who’d be immune to that! Also, and scarily, Nathan has used ALL internet searches and face expressions there ever were to create his AI projects. Imagine that!

    Everything about this movie has ‘allegory’ written all over it, and the lesson is: you trust her not to be using you, and yet she is and always will. I feel sorry for men, I really do. That’s why I was surprised at your words, how women in this film were mistreated. There are no women in this film. 🙂 Just men building robots according to their desires. And even these turn out to be bitches.

    I had a strange feeling watching Nathan that he was really Stephen Baldwin in disguise. And then I saw the name of the actor, and checked out his other movies – and I haven’t seen any. Why did he sound and seem so familiar then?

    Anyway, I’m glad to have seen this, for the idea and scenery alone, if nothing else. And you’re right – if it hits different people in different ways, it serves a cause.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for great comment! And thank you for reading & watching along. That’s so great. Take Shelter is wonderful, isn’t it?
      It’s so interesting to hear what other people get out of the same films, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. _______SPOILERS__________
    This was definitely a through provoking movie, and one that i enjoyed and was fascinated by throughout.

    I would side with Ava also, but also felt bad for Caleb, being left to die a horrible and prolonged death.Though he was a bit of a dick about how he viewed Ava, he dint deserve that kind of karma 😛

    That being said, it gave the ending a powerful impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I get what you’re saying. 🙂 I kind of find it interesting that people thought that Caleb would starve to death. My first thought was that as soon as he logged into the computer thing and had his access denied, security locked that that would alert security. Also, the complex is quite large, with only a lazy guy and his servant/robot to service the whole thing, so it’s not like they’re growing their own food or cleaning the pace. Caleb would be found before he starved to death by any maintenance and cleaning staff. Or by security. So I thought that she had bought time to get away from him, and that he might get blamed for his bosses death. Which he actually kind of doesn’t deserve either.
      I also thought the ending was sad because Ava has no where to go for shelter, no real defences other than her quick thinking, and no means of recharging battery. She wouldn’t have any ID or anything either. Was she just going so that she could die not in captivity?
      What do you think? I’m not sure that I’m right about this interpretation or anything, it was just interesting to me that other people all get different things from it, and I think that’s so fascinating.
      Thank you for commenting, by the way, I love when people comment.


      1. I thought the security system was a bit silly and dangerous when it was explained in the movie. I don’t remember the details anymore; it has been a while since I watched it.

        Yeah, there was a chance that someone would turn up within the month to rescue Caleb. So if Caleb had water he might have survived. But I also got the impression that Nathan did not want anyone else in the house. No cleaner is ever mentioned, or security check ins. He has Kyoko to cook and clean. Caleb was locked out of the computer, but you’re right, there is a chance he could activate an alarm. Anyway – my first assumptions were that he was going to die horribly.

        I also wondered how Ava would recharge out in the world. And seeing she was kind of fragile, what would she do it she ever broke an arm. But she looked happy to be free at that time. She is smart, charismatic, and beautiful, so I assumed she would sort things out (She also has no problem lying and murdering haha). I guess the writer leaves it up to our imagination and level of optimism.

        Exploring the ideas of AI and ethics has been popular recently; there have been a lot of AI movies in the past year – Chappie, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Uncanny, Transcendence, Terminator Genesis, Automata.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, its really interesting. I like that everyone I talk to got something slightly different out of this film. 😀
        And agreed, she seems to be able to take care of herself & the alarm system was a bit of a plot point, you know? 🙂 very cool film.


  3. I loved the film! Like you, I was on Ava’s side the whole time. It’s interesting because despite being non-human, I felt that her character in its complexity and rawness was the most emotive and ‘real’. There’s just something about her cunning and desperation and really, the whole range of emotions and experiences she presents in that one room, that gets to me. I guess the one thing I didn’t really enjoy was the portrayal of Caleb and Nathan – their personalities just didn’t seem as crisp as hers. Nonetheless, I totally agree – it’s a really interesting and well-made film!


    1. Thank you for commenting. 😀 It’s great to hear from you.
      I loved it to. I also felt that Ava was the most human of the four characters, it really got to me too. The way the women were so trapped and desperate. I think that you’re meant to feel that Caleb and Nathan are fake and almost less real than she is, I think that’s part of the beauty of the film. What threw me after watching it was that some people felt sorry for Caleb, I didn’t really. He was kind of a creep and a voyeur! I”m glad to hear that you took away from the film some of the same thoughts and feelings that I had.


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