Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Gender Roles - Women: 4 Stars
Ava isn't really a woman at all. She's a computer pretending to be a woman. She appears to understand human concepts like freedom, vulnerability, and attraction, but the pivotal question that Ex Machina asks, is whether she can truly feel versus simply simulating human emotions. As long as that question remains unanswered, it's difficult to say whether Ava truly has any ambition, skill or free will. To a large degree, everything that she is she owes to the programmer who created her, but she still finds ways to outsmart him, and is even manages to ultimately escape from his control.
Gender Roles - Men: 4.5 Stars
Caleb is a puzzling mix of vulnerability and competence. A large part of his persona is built on the stereotype of the shy and socially awkward computer nerd, but he also has his moments where his gift for understanding machines puts him in position to be something of an unexpected hero. Ex Machina deserves praise for shining a spotlight on this intelligent and over-looked nice guy who never seems to get the girl. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, the writers can't help but turn these same qualities into a weakness and mercilessly tear him down.
Nathan, on the other hand, is another sort of boy genius - but one with more traditional masculine traits like working out, drinking to excess, enjoying a healthy sex drive, and displaying a rugged confidence. But it doesn't take long for audiences to figure out that despite his more laid back and relatable demeanor, Nathan is anything but admirable - and is easily the more creepy and perverse of the two.
Plot: 4 Stars
Ava is Nathan's prisoner for most of the film, and her sole objective is to find some means of escape. She finds subtle ways to trick the men around her, either by controlling the power supply in the compound or by manipulating Caleb's emotions. Through these clever devices, Ava is ultimately able to secure her own freedom, but it's a bit unsettling that she comes across as such a cold machine in the end. In some ways, Ava is more of a protagonist than either the man that created her or the man that's trying to save her - but it would be far easier to celebrate her escape if we weren't cruelly reminded exactly how far from human Ava still is. In fact, the audience is subjected to the same feelings of betrayal as Caleb - when they find out they've been manipulated into caring for a very sophisticated computer who isn't at all who she appears to be.
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Ava has a sense of self-esteem. She's concerned about her own self-preservation and even seems to express feelings of injustice that someone might have the power to switch her on and off at will. But she's never had the uncomfortable experience of comparing herself against another human being. She's never dealt with rejection or failure or any of the other human experiences that build resilience and self-confidence. Likewise, Ava hasn't been subjected to a barrage of images and media tropes convincing her that her status as a woman makes her uniquely adapted for certain roles rather than others. Simply put, Ava's never really been exposed to sexism.
It can hardly go unnoticed that Ava's been engineered as a pretty white woman, which will only open doors for her as she goes about the world. In a way, it's almost unfortunate that the film ends just as Ava's real story is getting started. It would be fascinating to see her reactions as she attempts to blend into a gender-stratified society for the first time - to watch her suddenly recognize that her hand-crafted body gives her a certain sense of luxury, but also holds her back. It's anyone's guess whether her feelings of superiority and detachment from the human race would be able to withstand the pressures of being a woman in modern-day society.
Character Development: 1.5 Stars
Ava doesn't have anything resembling a true personality. There are times when Caleb encourages her to pick a topic of conversation, or talk about what she might do with herself should she ever venture outside the compound. Her answers are generic and vague, as they should be - considering the fact that she is, after all, a computer. She has no family history or personal interests to set her apart from any other living, breathing beings. In fact, the most intriguing part about Ava is in trying to distinguish what about her is real and what is simply programming. The very idea that a computer would long for freedom is, in and of itself, an intriguing concept. But none of these existential questions are an adequate substitute for actual human uniqueness. And while Ava is slightly relatable at times, but the end of the film it is fairly clear that she is more machine than she is human.
Supporting Characters: 2 Stars
Ex Machina includes one other female character, another model of artificial intelligence named Kyoko. Unlike Ava, Kyoko doesn't speak. She appears to be programmed solely to keep house for Nathan and to provide him with a sexual outlet when he feels the urge. But despite the fact that Kyoko is a more simplified version of AI, she still seems to have developed some desire for self-direction and even displays some fierce rebellion towards the end.
Ex Machina does a brilliant job of building up our sympathy for this exploited character, but then brings us to question that sympathy when we learn that she's truly a robot and not a human being at all. Much like Ava, the film challenges us to make a confusing determination regarding when a programmed computer crosses the line and becomes a self-actualized being deserving of some form of respect and autonomy. Furthermore, we might ask ourselves, once we've made the decision that Nathan's creations are in fact evolved enough to receive this level of independence and respect - at what point do we also need to hold them accountable for their actions.
While Kyoko's character isn't particularly brave or inspiring, her presence adds an intricate layer to the question of how we view women trapped in exploitative relationships. Whether fully human or some lesser form of self-aware being, Ex Machina challenges our tolerance of certain forms of repression, regardless of what we perceive to be the acceptance or complicity of the exploited beings themselves.
Caleb is a computer programmer who is recruited by his eccentric boss, Nathan, for a special project. Caleb is flown to a remote compound where he is introduced to Ava, Nathan's most recent attempt at creating true artificial intelligence. Caleb's role is to communicate and bond with Ava, looking for any flaws that might identify her as a programmed machine, rather than a human. But it isn't long before Caleb begins to expect that there is something more devious is at play, and he has only a matter of time to decide whether Ava is truly worth risking everything.
Kelly is a labor law