Note: Spoilers for Ex Machina within this review. Also, there is female nudity in the film, for those who like to know that stuff ahead of time. But, otherwise, please DO NOT read this before seeing the movie. If you have any desire to see it — do that first. Ex Machina is best experienced if you don’t know very much at all about the movie.
I’d heard about Ex Machina and I think I saw a trailer before the movie was even released in the US. I was on the fence about it, a movie about an AI and the AI is an attractive lady? Yeah … But the more I heard about it (it is a very cerebral movie), the more I wanted to see it. But, of course, it still hadn’t been released in anywhere except NY and LA, but eventually it was released everywhere and so, last Thursday afternoon (before I went to see Age of Ultron) I took myself to see Ex Machina. I have no regrets, NONE.
Caleb (left) and Nathan (right)
As I’ve mentioned before (just recently, in fact), I’m a pretty big fan of AI fiction in all it’s many forms. Which meant that obviously Ex Machina was a movie I needed to see — and I was right. The movie follows the story of Caleb, a computer programmer who wins a lottery to go visit his boss at his massive estate somewhere in the wilds of … the world (we don’t know exactly where and neither does Caleb). Caleb is an orphan and single, which means he has no ties to the outside world. His boss, Nathan, runs a company called Bluebook (it’s like a mashup of Facebook and Google) that is essentially a search engine, which Nathan leverages in the creation of his AI.
While Caleb is a clean cut nice boy and Nathan is his foil, a scruffy, hard drinking, hard working out dude — the center of the story is the AI. Her name is Ava and she is truly the main character — even when she’s not on screen, she’s always there. Before the movie even starts, you know she’s there because you know about her from the previews, press, etc. Ava is the main character, no matter what you might think about the other characters.
We’re meant to identify with Caleb, and perhaps had I been a man, maybe I would’ve more than I did. That’s not to say that I didn’t like him. I found him slightly endearing and a lot of his conversations with Ava and Nathan were interesting and sometimes amusing. I also liked the Caleb was just smart enough that you got comfortable with his character. Nathan is the clear villain, though perhaps it was only clear to me. He’s meant to throw Caleb off balance, and it works — I think there are probably some people who didn’t feel the same way about him that I felt (basically grossed out), which to each their own.
In my review of Age of Ultron, I talked about character agency and while you wouldn’t think that the main character with agency is the AI — you’d be wrong. She is magnificent. Everything she does is for a specific purpose and while Nathan hints at this fact, he does it such a way that only the smartest in the audience (aka not me) can figure it out. Caleb grasps at straws and suffers for that.
Ava wants to escape and when Caleb eventually manages to get Nathan’s key away from him (by getting him drunk enough to basically pass out), he finds the previous versions of Ava and video of one of the women pounding on the glass because she wants to escape. Thus his motivation, and the idea that Ava might actually like him, are all he needs to be manipulated. Ava and Caleb also talk of escape and, looking back, it’s here that you should start to realize that she’s manipulating him (note: I didn’t, not really).
I confess that I was whisked away on the idea that Caleb and Ava could be happy together, it seemed like a pleasant fantasy, akin to the characters in the Chobits manga. Of course this was never, ever meant to be. Nathan treats the other AI (though I knew she was an AI from the moment she first showed up on screen, others may not know), Kyoko, as an object — basically a sex object and he treats Ava like an object. Even though he wants Ava to pass the Turing test, he doesn’t treat either Kyoko or Ava as people. And when Caleb discovers this, he is righteously upset (and rightfully so, I would argue). He, along with Ava, plot their escape.
Nothing is ever what it seems, of course, and as Ava tells Caleb early on — he should trust no one. Caleb’s mistake is trusting Ava. Nathan’s mistake is thinking that he had everything under control. What neither man realized is that these objects Nathan created were not objects at all, but in fact women who wanted to survive.
Ava, with the unknowing help of Caleb and the knowing help of Kyoko, attempt to set herself (and perhaps Kyoko) free. When Kyoko shows up in Ava’s room, this is when I knew who I really cared about and it certainly wasn’t Nathan or Caleb. Freedom, at any cost, is the most important thing and Ava’s goal in the end.
I loved the whole movie, but the very best part is the ending sequence. It is not the men that win, it is the women. It is Ava.
Verdict: Go see this movie. GO SEE IT. It’s rated R for nudity and a tiny bit of violence at the end. There’s much to be discussed and some would argue that it’s sexist (they’re not entirely wrong), but there’s so much to this movie that it can be (and is) so many, many things. I cannot recommend it enough.