Ex Machina is a film that requires quiet watching, as events slowly unfold. It’s The plot is slow but rewards careful watchers. Going into the film with as little information as possible enhances the experience, so I’m going to warn you that this review contains SPOILERS and that if you plan to see it, do. If I had to give you one a one sentence review it would be: The intricacies of the plot and of the nature of morality, manipulation, and consciousness slowly unravel as you learn more about the characters and the situation; Oscar Issac as Nathan is charming while Ava is a fascinating entity. The following paragraphs are not spoiler-free.
As more information is made available throughout the week that Caleb spends testing Ava, I found my sympathies and shifting between characters, and though not all of them deserve what happened to them, none were truly evil. With so much deception, audiences are thrown into an uncertain world, guessing at the characters’ motivation.
The plot isn’t about Caleb at all, despite him being painted as the hero, and I was delighted by this revelation. It was like watching a magic trick. In an intricate game of chess between Nathan and Ava, Caleb acts the pawn. Ava’s test was to use her wit, sexuality, and persuasion to convince Caleb to set her free. She lies to him about Nathan, who in turn also obscures the truth. In her body language, Ava becomes more meek and subdued while playing the damsel in distress, a stark comparison to her persona when first introduced to Caleb, standing straight and seeming in control. Both Ava and Nathan are appealing to Caleb’s ego, Ava to his sexuality, loneliness, and hero complex, and Nathan to his pride and intelligence. The problem of Ava, and how to treat her, is at the heart of this film.
Ava was not the first AI Nathan created, and probably wouldn’t have been his last, had he survived. Was he a monster for keeping these intelligent creatures locked in his house? Not really. Armed with logic without morality, they wouldn’t have sought world domination, but may not have had any hesitation to destroy obstacles to their desires. It would have irresponsible for Nathan to release these creatures to the world. We know Ava thinks little of humans, because she locked Caleb in the compound, where he will probably starve to death. Killing Nathan could be called a crime of passion, but Caleb had set her free. She was neither grateful nor compassionate.
Nathan also keeps the robots as sexy servants and for sexual gratification. This is admittedly creepy, but not necessarily wrong. When he has sex with Kyoko, she seems consenting, and affectionate, but this could be her programming. Can one rape an AI? Is it wrong to program one to want to have sex with her creator? It’s hard to say, and is the larger question this film poses, how to define humanity, and what rights an artificial person should have. At this moment, I believe it would depend on the AI’s capacity for feeling. With Ava free, there’s no telling what she’ll do, but she seems to be driven by desire and curiosity.
Overall, I loved this film. The characters were magnetic and the screenplay was very deserving of its award nominations this year. I’ve been told that some found the film to be derivitive; however, I believe that this is an exploratory example of this type of story, of which there are many. My own vote is an impressive 8/10.