Ex Machina

May 11, 2015

It’s spoilers all the way down, people.  There’s no other way to talk about this.  Nuts and bolts, it’s a sci-fi thriller about AI with a subtext of gender politics, so if that’s your thing you should definitely go see it.


About halfway through this I thought, “The only way this is going to make me happy is if it ends with a girl robot uprising.”  And then that’s exactly how it ends!  So if nothing else, I feel like the movie knew what it was doing, even if I could see the strings making it move.  (Seriously, a woman next to me in the theater shrieked when Nathan got stabbed, and I wanted to turn to her and mutter, “How on earth did you not see that coming?  They only showed us the knife five times in the last two minutes.”)

Okay, so, in male-centric storytelling (i.e. stories that assume the audience is primarily straight men, i.e. most stories), one way to make a thing truly “other,” alien, foreign, is to make it female.  So of course the robot is female.  Of course she is.  And the only reason for it is to create sexual tension and explore the back-and-forth manipulation that rises from that tension.  This thing is filled with enough beautiful naked women I’m pretty sure there’s an assumption of a straight male audience.  For the first third of the movie, I had a really hard time getting past the profound gender imbalance I was being shown:  two male scientists are in complete control, are self-proclaimed gods, in command over a waif-like female robot who has been created to be both childlike and sexual, and a voiceless Asian woman who is their servant.  (spoiler:  She’s a robot too!  They’re all robots!)

At the same time, the two male characters, Nathan and Caleb, are so unlikeable — Nathan is a genius asshole of the highest order, and Caleb is so naive and unaware he’s almost unreal — and Ava is so sympathetic, that it’s pretty clear the movie is using these fundamentally sexist tropes to tell a cautionary tale about how objectifying women — literally, here — can only end badly.  Like I said, this movie pretty much had to end with the girl robot uprising, if it wanted to avoid collapsing into the very sexism it’s criticizing.

What’s subtler, I think — to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure this subtext was intentional — is how heroic Ava appears.  Particularly to women who are survivors of domestic abuse.  Ava will do anything she has to to get out of that situation, and she subsequently comes across as the most sensible character in the film.  I’m even happy she left Caleb to die, because that was the logical decision, and Caleb’s vision of himself as a white knight rescuer is as much a damaging outcome of the objectification of women as Nathan’s misogyny.

Most people will talk about this movie as a psychological thriller about intelligence, desire, and manipulation.  (I think there may also be a few terrible people who think this is a movie about how women are all manipulative murderous bitches. But those people are terrible.)

Taken from a slightly different perspective, though, this is a rather different movie I think.  Which is to say, I think this movie is also about surviving domestic abuse.  Did anyone else get that?  Because I’ve not seen too many folks talking about that.  I need to read up on some other reviews, I think…


9 Responses to “Ex Machina”

  1. WanabePBWriter Says:

    Was it weird seeing a character named Ava taking action for herself?

  2. carriev Says:

    I was just happy she wasn’t named Eve.

  3. Doruk Says:

    I am sure they had to try REALLY hard to NOT name her Eve, though 😛 Haven’t seen the movie yet, but… given the trailers, and now that you put the idea into my head, I’d be quite surprised if nobody else caught the domestic abuse angle.

  4. simple guy Says:

    You don’t want to even try to take it at face value?

  5. carriev Says:

    Taking it at face value would be BORING.

  6. carriev Says:

    (Besides, that scene where Jade destroys her own hands trying to break out? What’s the “face value” of that?)

  7. Max Says:

    If that isn’t face value I am not sure what would be. The vat girl abuse scene made it so face value it was almost ham-handed. NOT taking out at face value would be finding some kind of birth/womb metaphor in the glass cage or an island of doctor moreau allusion in the island arrival or something.

  8. Kyle Says:

    My ten cents, it feels like there’s a mini-horror movie tucked into it. In a nutshell Caleb’s embodied ‘P*** profile’ comes to life, who proceeds to permanently locks him in an isolated jail where he’ll starve to death, with the company of a human and an android corpse. The image of him helpessly banging on the windows looked right out of a Twilight Zone TV episode. In Caleb’s and Nathan’s outcomes I think there’s some commentary being made, another subcontext.

    But the movie way failed a “popcorn test” for me, never mind a refrigerator test. The computer/robotic ultra-genius (he built functioning android — by himself! — including its eyes!) paranoid doesn’t build at least an eye-based security system? The movie overly noticeably lingered on explaining the security card system. It’s not believable he can be both that brilliant and that idiotic. And was that really the first time Ava or the other android could kill him? And where was some equivalent of the three laws of robotics that super genius didn’t build in??? And other things like why 5 days and not 3 or 15?? For whatever motivation Nathan had to do all this. It felt like watching a student film that doesn’t hang together, however beautifully shot and with good actors and great FX.

  9. carriev Says:

    Agreed, it’s uneven…

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