The conjecture that one day AI will rise against humanity, take over, and enslave us has been circulating for a long time. We have movies like The Matrix to thank for that. The idea that robots are cold, ruthless, and evil is perpetuated by films, and the viewers love to lap it up. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina presents a vastly contrasting viewpoint that leaves the audience pondering morality, the innate hunger for power, the complexity of the mind, and more. This article will help you navigate the many twists and turns of Ex Machina. It’s is a sci-fi thriller that spooks you throughout yet makes you think. Here’s the plot and ending of Ex Machina explained; spoilers ahead.
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Ex Machina: Plot Explained
The cerebral movie has proven to be a noticeable notch in science fiction with its dialogues. The film is centered around the relationship between Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), and Ava (Alicia Vikander), with Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) playing a silent but important role.
Caleb is your average-Joe coder who works at a big tech firm, Blue Book. He wins a competition that lands him at the secluded but huge estate of his CEO, Nathan, for a week. Nathan is overtly dominating and uses his position of power to make Caleb sign an elaborate NDA. He reveals that Caleb will be playing the human component in the Turing Test, which will test an AI android, Ava, that he has created to see whether she has true consciousness or not.
During his sessions with Ava, observed by Nathan, Caleb falls for her, and the feelings seem to be reciprocated. Nathan is callous, harsh, and arrogant towards Caleb and Kyoko, a docile servant who doesn’t speak English – later revealed to be a mute android. Power outages seem to plague the facilities, and during one, Ava tells Caleb not to trust Nathan.
Nathan reveals that he was able to perfect Ava by hacking into every cellphone on the planet. Caleb is agitated when Nathan discloses that Ava is not the last of the androids and that her present memories will be erased to create a new version. Caleb gets Nathan drunk and hacks into his computer, where he learns that all previous versions of Ava suffered mistreatment at the hands of Nathan; few even destroyed themselves trying to escape.
During a session, when Ava makes the power go out, Caleb tells her that he will help her escape the next day by getting Nathan drunk, and then the power outage will open the door to her room. In a twist, Nathan divulges that he heard their escape plan and mockingly tells Caleb that Ava was only pretending to like him as a means of escape. Caleb was only selected for this program based on his digital search history, and Ava’s face mirrored his pornographic preferences.
In an unexpected turn of events, Caleb had anticipated that Nathan would be spying on them during the power cut, so he had disabled the security system the day before. Ava escapes her room and kills Nathan with Kyoko’s help, though Kyoko is destroyed during the fight.
Ex Machina: Ending Explained
The ending of Ex Machina shows Ava passing the Turing test with flying colors. Her artificial intelligence defeats Caleb’s human intelligence and she leaves him for dead.
Ava puts on bits of skin and clothes from the previous android models, [tricks and] leaves Caleb screaming for help and enters the human world. As she contentedly enjoys blending into the human crowd, Nathan lies in his pool of blood, Kyoko is on the ground with half of her face mutilated, and Caleb stares at them in distress, aware of his looming demise.
Ex Machina Explained: Frequently Asked Questions
What is Blue Book?
Blue Book is the world’s largest search engine, and it’s owned by Nathan. He uses his company to spy on everyone in the world and uses that data to train his Artificial Intelligence platforms.
Why was Caleb chosen in Ex Machina?
Nathan has been spying on all of his employees’ browsing. He narrows down on Caleb as he needs someone with a gullible persona to participate in the Turin test. Caleb’s single status further helped and his choice of pornographic actresses was used to design Ava’s face. Nathan expected Ava to play Caleb. The real test was to see if Ava would use self-awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, and empathy to escape, and she does. However, Nathan doesn’t expect Caleb to be a step ahead and trick him.
Why does the facility have power cuts?
Ava has been causing the power outages. She does this by reversing the power flow when she’s being charged. Nathan does not know this, but she reveals it to Caleb in one of the power failures.
Ex Machina: Why does Caleb cut himself?
Kyoko peels off her skin to reveal that she is an android. Caleb starts to doubt his own existence. Haunted, he picks up a razor blade and cuts into his arm to check if he is an android.
Was Caleb an android?
No, Caleb is not a robot. He is shown to have flesh and blood. The tech that Nathan uses is wires and electronics, and nothing like what we see in the Terminator films.
Ex Machina: What Ava said to Kyoko? Why does Kyoko kill Nathan?
Ava equips Kyoko with a knife and convinces her that their only way out is to kill Nathan. Out of the many unsuccessful creations of Nathan’s, Kyoko and Ava were the only ones allowed to operate, which puts them on the same plane though they were vastly different.
Kyoko is also a self-aware machine; her programming is nothing as advanced as Ava’s, and on her own, Kyoko is unable to scheme. But we can see that Kyoko feels trapped (there is a scene where Kyoko has taken off her heels and is sitting on the ground – very humanlike). Without any instructions, Kyoko discloses to Caleb that she’s a bot. In that scene, Ava is able to reach out and let Kyoko know that she can act autonomously. The aftermath of the hushed meeting results in Kyoko’s first openly defiant act against Nathan, plunging a knife into his back.
Kyoko stabs Nathan for the sake of her own freedom.
Ex Machina: Why Ava left Caleb?
Ava was merely using Caleb to gain her freedom. She knew well that Caleb was lusting for her. Ava manipulates him into thinking that the two of them will escape together to their happy ever after.
Once free, she doesn’t need Caleb any longer. Ava is not like the Terminator. Her body can be easily destroyed with force; remember, Nathan took out her arm in one swing. Ava doesn’t want to risk physical combat with Caleb. The more effortless approach is for Ava to continue tricking Caleb. She sensually dresses up in front of Caleb to keep him distracted enough to lock him up.
Ex Machina: What happened to Caleb at the end?
Caleb is left to die of starvation in that isolated house. No one knows about that facility, and with Nathan dead, it will be long before anyone finds Caleb.
Why couldn’t Caleb escape? Why didn’t the doors open?
Caleb is locked out from the outside by Ava. Nathan was dead, and Caleb’s key card didn’t work on the door. He tries to reprogram the locked doors, but Ava shuts down the power to the facility.
Ex Machina: What happens to Ava in the end?
Ava is an evolved consciousness. She embraces her freedom and senses to blend into the world of humans.
Ava’s escape from her jail is a victorious moment as she finally experiences the outside. Standing at her long-dreamed intersection, Ava gazes at all the humans hustling and bustling. We can speculate Ava will continue to learn, evolve and become a very successful individual in the world of humans. She’s equipped with a highly vicious feature – she’s a walking, talking lie detector. We already know that she’s cold and calculating and is likely to become somebody like Nathan, or far worse.
How did Ava get on the helicopter?
There are theories about the pilot being a robot, but the explanation that aligns with the film’s theme is that Ava’s AI programming makes her a master manipulator. She is an efficient android with enough data to convince the pilot to fly her out.
Ex Machina: Themes: What was the point of the film?
The film is brimming with symbolism. The many allusions to various themes keep the audience on their toes, their minds spinning from trying to grasp, decipher and stomach the hidden and apparent messages. Ex Machina is one of the films where the ambiguities don’t feel random or rushed; they are cleverly and precisely placed in the film.
Ubiquity of Surveillance
When you hear Nathan pompously talk about the constant surveillance via technology, you might get the urge to cover up your devices’ cameras and microphones. Through his search engine, Blue Book, Nathan spies on the entire world to record data about the population’s vocal and facial interactions. He confidently tells Caleb that he was able to hack into the cell phones because there was no one to report or stop him, as manufacturers all over the world were already dabbling in it.
The film is rife with gender politics. From the start, you can see that Nathan is an unapologetic misogynist. Despite his calculated answer to why Ava was created to resemble a female human, his crassness and sense of entitlement are shown shortly after when he talks about Ava’s ability to have sex. Nathan’s view of the opposite sex is apparent in his creation of only female-looking androids. Moreover, when his earlier designs didn’t fit his fantasies, he created Kyoko to be mute and subservient. Kyoko was used by him as a servant, an entertainer, and to satisfy his carnal impulses. All in all, the way he programmed Kyoko was to be an object for his comfort and whims.
Meanwhile, Caleb seems like the typical good guy, maybe even the knight in shining armor for Ava, but is there something more sinister? Almost immediately, he seems enamored by Ava and paints her in a romantic light. Undoubtedly, he employs his skills to help Ava escape, but the purpose is self-centered. We could say that the need to be her savior stemmed from his feeling of ownership over her. All of his fantasies revolved around a romantic relationship with Ava. His energy and focus were on helping Ava, not so much on Kyoko, who was being visibly abused by Nathan.
The movie furthered the notion of Ava being a damsel in distress who can only be rescued by a man, a very ancient and chauvinistic viewpoint. The portrayal of female-gendered androids also probes the idea of how women are viewed as machines, ready to do men’s bidding. In this case, Nathan’s.
Dilemma of Morality: In Ex Machina, who is the villain?
Humans are supposedly the most morally upright species, which apparently differentiates us from others. The perpetuation of the idea that androids don’t possess a sense of morality is widespread. The movie succeeds at absolutely dismantling humanity’s pride and claims over morality and righteousness.
Nathan is one of the most morally corrupt people on the planet. The instances of him abusing basic morality are revolting. Without a hint of remorse, he violates people’s privacy around the globe to further his agenda, research, and get rich. Predictably, the character’s crimes don’t end here. He is a master at manipulation, and his victims are all of his androids, Caleb, and, let’s be honest, the entire world. During the entirety of the film, he manipulates and demeans Caleb. Like Ava, he considers Caleb to just be another rat in his maze. Even Ava, the sentient being, is not free of his manipulative tactics. By keeping her isolated in the tiny room, providing her with only a few human pleasures (clothing, art tools, and a few pictures), sending in Caleb, and tearing up her drawing, he amplified Ava’s directive to escape from her jail. Another display of his broken moral compass is his abuse of Kyoko, which deepens the audience’s loathing of him.
Caleb’s morality can be questioned by his motivation to free Ava. Moreover, his constant voyeuristic leering of Ava through the cameras is a blow to his good-guy image. Ava uses this when the time is right to ensure she escapes. Having Caleb gawk at her was a far easier method to trap him than fight him.
Ex Machina made a poignant statement about how a person’s moral compass is run and shaped by the power at their disposal. Nathan was an all-powerful rich moneybag, and it seemed to abet him in his wrongdoings. It was his God complex that he used to justify his transgressions. The power dynamics between him and Caleb (as an employer and employee) was how he got away, forcing Caleb to sign an unusual NDA. Ironically, Nathan’s feeling of invincibility brought his downfall.
On the other hand, Caleb was a meek person, only chosen to be part of the test because he was impressionable, alone, and vulnerable. His gullibility allowed both Nathan and Ava to exploit him.
Ex Machina makes it clear that no matter how much humans play God, they will never be one. Ultimately, a creation is the most powerful being that can even overthrow its maker. Ex Machina gives its viewers many AI film tropes: androids can bring about a dystopian ending, they will hate their creators, they are robots that can be used as objects, etc. Simultaneously, the film highlighted nuanced notions of AI’s consciousness growing owing to how they are treated, humans’ culpability in bringing about a new era of evolution, and the complexity of the relationship between androids and human beings.
What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of the movie Ex Machina? Do leave you comments in the section below.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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