your £$ support needed

part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Ex Machina movie review: damselbot in distress

Ex Machina red light

There’s nothing fresh or even usefully true in its cartoonish dichotomy about men, but this pseudo-SF flick will expound upon it with pretentious tedium.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m a big science fiction geek

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There’s a moment, Ex Machina’s big visual smack in the face, in which writer-director Alex Garland, probably unwittingly, reveals his hand. It’s imagery that, I would be utterly unsurprised to learn, was something that popped into his head disconnected from anything else, imagery he deemed so cool, so you-guys-gotta-see-this!, that he set himself then and there to building a story around it. I’m not, of course, going to spoil what this moment consists of, but suffice to say that it could have just as readily been slotted into a story about a serial killer.

That’s when we realize this: For all that Ex Machina tells the tale of an Internet genius gazillionaire who brings in one of his underlings to apply a Turing test to the self-aware robot he’s built, this isn’t actually a story about artificial intelligence. Which is good, because this movie doesn’t contain a single notion about AI or about how we meatbags might interact with one that Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t examine in far more compelling ways almost 30 years ago. (Filmed SF is always decades behind the literature. But it’s pretty inexcusable for a new science fiction movie to be beaten in the SF-concepts department by an old TV show.) There is one mildly interesting idea about search engines, but it comes and goes and is not essential to the story.

And it doesn’t matter, because this is, in fact, a story about how men treat women. A man is either chivalrous and kind, or a man is an evil monster. Now, there’s nothing interesting or fresh or even usefully true in such a cartoonish dichotomy, so that’s not great. And what’s worse, I have a terrible suspicion that Garland thinks he has made a feminist film with a strong and complex female character simply because a man of each of these ridiculous stripes argues about what to do with her.

Ava (Alicia Vikander: The Fifth Estate, Anna Karenina) isn’t actually female human person, of course. She’s an android AI who appears to have some very conventional ideas about what it means to at least pretend to be female (these involve, for instance, wearing demure virginal-white dresses). This may be because she was designed, built, and kept in complete isolation by Nathan (Oscar Isaac: The Two Faces of January, In Secret) at his remote supervillain lair, where he lives only with a servant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who speaks not at all but goes about her duties wearing as little clothing as possible. Nathan has some twisted ideas about women, as Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson: Unbroken, Frank) discovers when he arrives after winning a mysterious contest in the headquarters of Nathan’s Internet company Bluebook, where Caleb is a programmer.

It begins to become clear that Ex Machina is to be a battle between a Nice Guy and a Neanderthal when Ava — during the conversations with Caleb that he’s meant to be using to determine if she is truly conscious and self-aware — hints at what a terrible person Nathan is. “Don’t trust him,” she says. “Don’t believe him.” And: “He’s mean to me.” Well, she might not use that precise phrase, but that’s what it comes down to. Caleb’s Nice Guy chivalry is engaged! How can he help Ava without letting on to Nathan that there may be a rescue in progress?

Ex Machina truly would be no different a movie in any significant sense if Nathan were a serial killer holding Ava prisoner and playing some perverse game in which he allows his captive to talk to a person. You know, as a sort of tease before he dismembers her for his pleasure. (Nathan has obviously perfected artificial humanish skin, so why isn’t Ava entirely covered with it, instead of merely her face and hands? As we learn along with Caleb, Ava is, not unsurprisingly, far from Nathan’s first attempt to create an AI; previous iterations of his robots, all female, proved to be more intractable the more realistic approximations of women they were, both in their minds and their bodies. Women! Always demanding not to be Nathan’s prisoner! How ungrateful of them! Anyway, dismembered female parts are a recurring motif here. And yeah, even if they’re not “real,” they’re still realistic and here for your titillation, and that’s a problem.)

I’m tempted to wonder why — yet again — the fact that a guy (such as Garland) has written a couple of good screenplays (28 Days Later and Sunshine) suggests to the movie money people that he’s capable of directing a film. But really, it’s the script here that is the biggest problem. (Visually, the film is sleek and elegant, which only makes its thematic banality even more unpleasant. A pretty movie! And pretty dull.) Ex Machina goes about saying all the nothing it has to say with pretentious tedium. (“It’s Promethean!” Nathan shouts about his work at one point. You don’t say?) Every moment that is meant to be shocking is drearily conventional. Its one attempt to tip a toe into something a little bit trippy (but still clichéd) is backtracked on instantly. Garland may want to blow your mind, but all you’ve blown is a couple of hours.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Ex Machina for its representation of girls and women.

red light 1 star

Please support truly independent film criticism
as generously as you can.
support my work at PayPal support my work at Patreon support my work at Ko-Fi support my work at Liberapay More details...

Ex Machina (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 10 2015
UK/Ire release: Jan 23 2015

MPAA: rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, bloody violence, sex references)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Power2Glory

    A nonsense article from a nonsense reviewer, who needs to turn everything into a pseudo political debate.

    Never mind……real film critics seem to like it.

  • Dan Holley

    Vindictive neo-feminist review mode: disengaged [ENGAGED]

  • Constable

    I’m a guy and I’m tired with how women are treated in film. Am I a “neo-feminist” now?

  • Constable


  • RogerBW

    One day I want to see an actual film about AI that couldn’t have been made in the 1980s.

    OK, I still need to catch up with Her.

    But Autómata and The Machine were big disappointments too. Doubt I’ll bother with this: no stars who impress me, very boring storyline.

    Hey, d’ya suppose we could call it the Modern Prometheus? I’m sure nobody’s ever used that before!

  • Constable

    This is what Ava should have been like >:) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY_N7nWkujw

  • Constable

    That’s a shame, Automata looked interesting. Kind of a Bladerunner meets District 9. Oh well.

  • Jim Mann

    MaryAnn stated in detail about what was wrong with the film. If you disagree, instead of a dismissive comment that seems to be at least as much based on politics as you accuse her review of being, actually raise some points where you think she is wrong.

  • RogerBW

    I wrote a review on blog dot firedrake dot org which you may find interesting. Short version: great atmosphere, nothing to say.

  • I think I’m being insulted here, but this is so incoherent that I’m not sure.

  • Dan202903

    Just a small correction, or difference of opinion. I think the reason Ava isn’t covered with artificial humanish skin is made clear in the dialogue. Nathan wants Caleb to be entirely aware of the fact that she’s not human the whole time he’s talking to her. What better way to do that than through the way she looks? If she looked like a human then Caleb might think she was a human, and that might become the focus of his investigation into her. Then he’d be back at the base level Turing test that Nathan was hoping to move past.

    So, far from a stupid movie error, I think the choice to have her without most of her skin was deliberate and correct.

  • Where did I say this was an “error”? I didn’t. It’s not a mistake.

    A thing can have one conscious rationale for the character within the context of the story (and there can be another subconscious motivation), another for the creator who’s trying to say something in the subtext (and another subconscious motivation of his/her part), and a third (or more) that arises from the story as it exists in the cultural context in which it is told, whether it was intended by the creator of the story or not.

  • Beowulf

    Sheesh. Why is it that when a film is allowed to be the vision of one person, and not a studio committee, that the vision turns out to be so truncated and feeble? Good ideas are rewritten into incoherence and bad ideas are filmed without interference.
    Like I said, sheesh.

  • Dan202903

    “Nathan has obviously perfected artificial humanish skin, so why isn’t Ava entirely covered with it, instead of merely her face and hands?”

    What were you trying to imply with this question? I’m not being sarcastic, I’m genuinely interested, since my assumption when I first read it was that you were implying it was an oversight from the director, and from your response I assume I got that wrong. But I think the character’s motivation for why Ava only has face and hand skin is clear, the creator’s motivation is also clear, I’m not sure there is a cultural motivation in this case, so what answer were you looking for?

  • Tonio Kruger

    Evil A.I.! What an original concept! :-)

  • scd

    This is the ONLY review that I have seen that hits the nail square on the head. The film has NO female characters at all and how anyone can call it feminist is, at best, a marketing joke, at worst a bold faced lie. Woman as Object literally.
    “I will not tell you how ‘her’ brain works, but I will give you a schematic of how her vagina functions… oh and if you have sex with it, ‘she’ will enjoy it.”

  • Edd

    Very true.

  • It was a rhetorical question that I went on to answer for myself! The answer is *right there,* following the question.

    To repeat: I’m saying that, whatever the ostensible overt rationale on Nathan’s part — and I’m not even sure “He wants Caleb to be sure she’s a machine” cuts it — the (probably unintended) subtextual reason is to make her most definitely an *object,* because Nathan clearly does not know how to deal with real (or “real”) women who refuse to exist solely for his pleasure.

  • Constable

    It’s called the Lucas effect ;), a creative mind surrounded by an army of editors will usually make a good film. When that creative mind becomes arrogant and goes it alone… things can go wrong. Great ideas survive the tempering process, the crap burns away. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but Tolkien rewrote the Lord of the Rings over and over until he got what we read today. I think in one draft Strider was actually a Hobbit.

  • Alex Garland is not in any way in Lucas’s league, as far as “successful filmmakers who should be left alone to do as they wish” goes.

  • Constable

    Oh I know, I was just commenting on how collaboration can only help in creative endeavors.

  • Mandy H

    I want to upvote this a million times. My skin is creeping right now. Just UGH.

  • Danielm80

    Some collaboration is always necessary on a motion picture. But plenty of movies, and other works of art, have been damaged by too many studio notes, or by collaborators who disagreed with each other. Michael Mann and David Milch are both really talented, but I’ve heard they had a lot of trouble working together on the TV series Luck. It turned out to be a pretty mediocre show.*

    There are lots of stories about actors who’ve made demands that hurt a movie. Think of Edward Norton trying to rewrite his Hulk film, or Madonna insisting that a panther be worked into the plot of Who’s That Girl? because she liked big cats. Too much collaboration can be deadly, if occasionally hilarious.

    Sometimes collaboration produces terrific results. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker come to mind. But sometimes it’s better if one filmmaker has a vision and doesn’t waver.

    *It also had other difficulties during production, of course. More collaboration with animal protection agencies might have been helpful in that case.

  • Stupidbitchcan’treview

    I’m fairly certain that this review couldn’t be any more wrong, in fact, it’s about as wrong as it was legible. The way she writes is possibly one of the stupidest forms of reviewing I’ve had the displeasure of wittnessing.

  • John

    I think they mean it’s feminist in the sense that the film is saying men want to control and decide everything about and for women, to whether or not they have a voice of their own, or are silent and subservient to men.

  • Danielm80

    I think it’s a trend: Feminism as sexual fetish. We’re getting lots of films like Sucker Punch and, according to some people, Nymphomaniac, about the plight of poor, exploited women who walk around nearly naked so we can understand their suffering.

  • CircleA

    I don’t know, I really liked this film. I think that Caleb’s nice guy chivalry bit isn’t necessarily portrayed as a positive think and I think that’s mainly why the ending plays out in the way it does. Also while Nathan’s dickishness might seem like a caricature when I saw this film there was a large group of male students who seemed to be laughing with a lot of his sexist jokes. I found him to be realistic and thoroughly despicable


    Caleb’s nice-guyness and how he ends up is a perfect depiction of the MRA’s claim about how “nice guys” are treated by women, who are awful and deny sex to nice guys and treat them like dirt. (Note that the film makes a point of informing us that Caleb does not have a girlfriend.) And then Ava treats him so abominably! Just like a woman, unable to see a decent guy right in front of her. All *that* is a caricature… including the caricature of a “strong woman.”

    Assholes laughing along with Nathan is a not a point in favor of this film.

  • machinator

    Storyline of the movie was an AI with no real emotions, just trickery to get free. Just because something can fit in, doesn’t mean you can immediately throw it at the movie. You should keep reviewing movies, not your own insecurities and that’s what I felt reading this review.

  • Keith


    Have to say I didn’t read it that way. I didn’t think the film was criticising Ava. Completely the opposite in fact, I thought the film was fully supportive of Ava’s deception to achieve her escape. It meant that she got away through her own efforts and ingenuity and did not have to be passively rescued by Caleb, which is what a lot of the film had been hinting was going to be the solution.

  • If the MRA bullshit fits…


    I don’t think the film is criticizing Ava, either… until she becomes a sort of villain by leaving Caleb behind, presumably to die, for no good reason at all. He has done nothing to deserve to be treated like that.

  • Steven Morris

    I’m sorry that such a well written article could misunderstand the film so completely. Ava has no gender. Which means that everything Mary Ann writes is bollocks.

  • Except for how she behaves in a gendered way, has been coded in a gendered way by her creator, down to how she is completely literally fuckable.

    Have you even seen the film?

  • Steven Morris

    A question I was thinking of putting to you. Yes it behaves in a gendered way- but it isn’t female. And yes Ava is fuckable. But then so is a blow up doll.

  • Okay. So, in what way does your interpretation of the film change if Ava is not female?

    Perhaps this will also explain how I’ve misunderstood the film and in what way my analysis is “bollocks.”

  • Steven Morris

    Hi Mary Ann. I think this is a film about the monstrous
    other, not such much ‘Pygmalion’ as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, seen through the lens of recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (there are also
    elements here from Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’). In the story of Nathan’s creation of EVA the film makers are exploring the moral
    consequences of attempting to manipulate and create life through technology. Of course the fact that Nathan creates a series of androids who conform to very
    obvious male sexual fantasies is a comment upon the ways in which men objectify and commodify female sexuality, but what he has created is not a woman, not a female- but something else, and it is something which he cannot control. It is a similar conceit to that of another recent film I enjoyed very much, ‘Under the Skin’ (the original novel is even better), primarily in terms of the conflict between human characters and ‘the other’, where the latter use a facsimile of human gender and sexuality to gain power and control over the former.
    At a basic level, too, it’s obviously a warning about the dangerous arrogance of (in this case male) scientists and their work- ‘boys and their toys’!

  • Well, then, you’d better go read the thread following my review of *Under the Skin* as well as that following my discussion of why that is not a feminist film to discover why the difference you talk about is no difference at all.

    I’m sick of hearing that movies that exploit women and pander to heterosexual male fantasies are actually condemning how men treat women. It’s long past time for male filmmakers to figure out new ways to critique these attitudes, if that’s really what they want to do.

  • Em…

    …I actually thought the same as Dan 202903, and was about to offer a similar comment, because I thought you’d missed the point about her not being covered in skin being part of the plot rather than a mistake – oops! Apart from that, I agree with the review, and am pleased to find this website. I’ve been completely horrified at the number of people who have given ‘Kingsman’ rave reviews and who have also been pretty nasty to people who saw it as the sexist pile of steaming poo that it actually is…

  • VariousVarieties

    I’m replying to a couple of your above comments in one post here. SPOILERS BELOW:

    Caleb’s nice-guyness and how he ends up is a perfect depiction of the MRA’s claim about how “nice guys” are treated by women, who are awful and deny sex to nice guys and treat them like dirt.

    I don’t think disliking the film for its portayal of women is an invalid reason for disliking it (there are several lengthy shots that seemed there in large part for titillation). But where I disagree is that I didn’t see Caleb as just the “nice guy” side of the same MRA coin as Nathan. He’s obviously attracted to Ava, but it seemed to me that his main motivation for planning to rescue her was his instinct that wiping her personality would be morally wrong.

    (But having said that, come to think of it, I doubt he would have felt as strongly about the rescue if the same AI was in a male shell!)

    I don’t think the film is criticizing Ava, either… until she becomes a sort of villain by leaving Caleb behind

    I thought the ending wasn’t saying anything at all like: “Women! Can’t trust ’em! However much of a Nice Guy you are, they’ll use their feminine wiles to get what they want, and then cast you aside!” Instead the cautionary aspect of the ending seemed more the sort of sting in the tail that you might find in an SF short story. It seemed to me that the moment that the door is locked, the film was confirming/reminding you that whatever she looks like, this character is not a woman. So the warning came across to me as something more along the lines of: “A.I.! However confident you are that you know everything about your creation, you can’t trust it – it’ll do whatever it takes to survive.”

    (And yeah, the ending was darker than it might have been: it’s have been one thing to temporarily engage the lock for long enough for her to can catch the helicopter away, and then let him out into the rest of the house and wilderness. It’s quite another to leave him trapped in one room without any power or supplies at all! But for me this ruthlessness just reinforced the “this AI is more unknowable than it seems” aspect of the ending.)

  • Steven Morris

    Hi again Mary Ann. I’d love to read your review of ‘Under the Skin’ when I have time, even though I didn’t say it was a feminist film. However, my fundamental issue with your review of ‘Ex Machina’ remains the same. The portrayal of a scientist’s creation of an android which conforms to certain male stereotypes of female sexuality is not the same as the portrayal of a female character in the same way- and even in the latter case, it does not necessarily mean that this represents the exploitation of women. Alas, I fear your failure to grasp this difference means that you will continue to be sickened by ‘hearing that movies that exploit women and pander to heterosexual male fantasies are actually condemning how men treat women.’ Thanks for an interesting discussion.

  • So you’re saying the ending wouldn’t or *couldn’t* be exactly the same if, as I suggested in my review, the movie was about a serial killer rather than an AI designer?

  • I grasp the distinction you are talking about. I just don’t see how it makes any difference with regard to this movie. Or to most movie it gets applied to.

  • Ben

    I think you’re giving this film a somewhat unwarranted feminist reading. Of course, there are always aspects, with every film, that can reveal sexist attitudes, or attitudes towards the general issue. The Godfather reveals, perhaps, the idea that women are expendable objects that can be perpetually dumped and reclaimed (Diane Keaton’s character) but it is not about that issue. And there’s no problem with being angry about it either, in the instance of the Godfather, but as long as the anger is on a separate level to your view of the film itself. I can hate the fact that Native Americans were stereotyped and crudely underrepresented in Old Westerns in the 50s but still enjoy (or at least critique artistically beyond this issue) the films for themselves. And in going down this feminist path you’re contradicting yourself – is she a generic “damsel in distress” who needs to be saved by the nice chivalrous man or a generic “strong female character” who can’t see the goodness of the “nice guy” in front of her? She can’t be both, and delving this deep into such aspects of the story triviliase a film that, frankly, probably doesn’t care about issues at the philosophical level of a Tumblr blog.

    Now you say this film is actually trying to be feminist (i.e. you’re not just reading into it), but I just don’t see that. There is certainly a sexual aspect between Vikander and Gleeson, of course, but this is about sexuality itself, removed from gender. The sexuality is used to show how human relations can have possibilities beyond the flesh.

    You say her exposed metal frame is about female objectification, but isn’t it rather there as the central message of the film – concerning what it means to be human, and how much “human” there has to be for something to seemingly qualify as such? In the (spoilers) end when she is fully clothed and aesthetically human, does she not seem less human (in her actions) than at the start where we see her inner workings? Her humanity, if she has it, lies behind her artificial womanhood. To me, she could be swapped for Frankenstein’s (male) monster and sexuality replaced with friendship – sexuality is however a more effective and (perhaps) powerful human relation.

    The “male dichotomy” you talk about is far more complex than just how “men treat women”. Why would he feel the need for such a specific, sci-fi backdrop to examine this issue? The dichotomy between the two men is not simply “nice guy” “mean guy” but, on a level that a different setting could rarely achieve, a distinction between “human” and “god”. This is about the responsibility of man, the meaning of human relations, what constitutes as humanity and the conflict between man’s need for progress and his need for stable, unchanging life. The fact that Ava is sexual considers a reality where robots can be sexual, can love, can betray. It is not the fact that she is a sexualised woman, but rather that she is a sexualised robot.

    I hope I’ve made some sense, and I’m interested to know what you think (don’t take this as a personal attack)

  • Danielm80

    If I were an American Indian, I might find it painful to watch the old Westerns that you consider enjoyable. As a Jewish person, I certainly find it difficult to read sections of The Merchant of Venice, even though it has some of the most beautiful language of all time, and even though it was written hundreds of years ago, when anti-Semitism was fairly commonplace. My point is: You don’t get to tell other people what percentage of a movie has to be sexist before they can get offended, and you don’t get to tell them that your interpretation of the film is more correct than anyone else’s, just because you have a higher tolerance for abused robots than other members of the audience do.

  • Ben

    That’s not what I meant (also I don’t particularly love those westerns, they were a random example), and in fact, as a Jew myself, I also feel discomfort at the completely uncloaked antisemitism in the Merchant of Venice. My point is, is that offense and critique should be on different levels. Like I said, if you let offense become the backbone of a review, you can (obviously there are limits, such as explicitly hateful Goebbels productions) end up ignoring the film itself – like in my example of overly interpreting the Godfather. My point is basically that the reviewer seems to see the very existence of sexuality in this film as the sole purpose of the film, and this tunnel visioned approach seems to ignore other possibilities.

  • Ben

    (by other possibilities I mean the possibility that the female sexuality presented is a theme independent from feminism)

  • You’re still talking about dynamics that are deeply gendered. Men get to be gods (or saviors) and women get to be the objects of male sexual desire.

    She can’t be both

    Of course she can. Characters in a fictional story can be many things. The two things you say she cannot be both of aren’t even contradictory, and it is in how she morphs from one to the other that is a matter of perception *and* the root of why the filmmaker *may* think he has made a feminist film. It’s a cliché that men who don’t understand feminism frequently resort to.

    delving this deep into such aspects of the story triviliase a film

    The film does a damn good job of trivializing itself by having not a single thing to say that hasn’t been said before, up to and including “Heh heh, sexy lady robot…”

    I’ll stand by my feminist interpretation of this film, thanks.

  • But I am *not* “ignoring” anything. There simply isn’t anything else there in the film as far as I can see.

  • If “female sexuality” is a “theme” this film explores, it does so in a risible, childish way that suggests to me that the filmmaker doesn’t know any actual women.

    It’s almost impossible, in our culture, to separate female sexuality from the position of women in our culture. And discussing *that* is most definitely a feminist thing! There is no way to separate the things you’re saying should be separated.

  • VariousVarieties

    I agree that the film’s imagery (dismembered body parts there for titillation) is reminiscent of serial killer thrillers. And you could definitely make a kidnapping film in which many of the same events occur (though I’m not sure how the equivalent of the Caleb character would be handled – how he could remain ignorant/play along for so long, while still remaining sympathetic).

    But I think that although you could make a film in which a human female victim does what Ava does at the end, the overall emphasis would be different. To me, Ex Machina came across as a film which primarily speculates about how people might treat robots, and secondarily involves metaphors about how men treat women; whereas if this movie was a serial killer film, the latter would probably be a far more unambiguous and literal theme.

    So yes, a serial killer film could have an extremely similar ending to this one, and its themes would not be drastically, fundamentally different from those in this movie. But I think that the different emphasis would make me look at such a movie quite differently.

    I think this comment from Steven Morris elsewhere in the thread summarises this better than I can:

    The portrayal of a scientist’s creation of an android which conforms to certain male stereotypes of female sexuality is not the same as the portrayal of a female character in the same way

    I dunno, I could well be wrong; perhaps this really is as problematic a film as you found it? Maybe I’m letting the impressive production and sound design, the cool tech, and my eagerness to see a good robot movie fool me into denying that it is? But so far, although I’ve found it interesting to think about the movie from that perspective, I don’t think I’m persuaded.

    Also, one of the SF movies this reminded me of a lot was Splice, which had a similarly strong focus on the sexuality of an artificial life form (but I don’t think it was as good a film as this). I’ve just gone and read your review of that, and I’m curious to know whether any comparisons to that film came to mind for you as well?

  • *Splice* did not come to mind while I was watching this film. But I haven’t seen that film since it was new, so that doesn’t mean anything.

  • chronoarbiter

    I’m a girl – did I miss a sexist undertone here somewhere? Sure, the film is full of disrespectful treatment, on Nathan’s part, toward the ‘female characters’. Worse, they’re not even ‘real human girls’, but objects of his creation.

    But as a 4-character play in an isolated setting there is little room for
    the characters to be more than exaggerated archetypes. The inventor:
    arrogant, self-interested, amoral (sees himself beyond morality,
    has a God complex). The observer: naive, romantic, reactive, swayed by the
    ethics and emotions that govern most of us. The robot: beguiling, a
    mystery to us, and later we find out, also to the inventor himself.
    And lastly Kyoko: an example of what the inventor does with his creations.

    But Nathan’s behaviour stresses nothing more than what we already know – that the
    foremost proponents of android builders are fixated on making cute and
    hyper-realistic and totally submissive girl robots. The way Nathan leaves the robots naked, imprisoned, isolated, and eventually ‘hurts’/breaks them, actually exposes very real fantasies harboured by some (and only some!) men (as seen in pornography, for instance). Nathan has just enabled himself to live without personal and societal inhibitions.

    So what’s interesting for me (among loads of other things) here is the examination of Nathan’s character as someone highly intelligent and pretty much devoid of empathy or moral restraint. Cross-examine that with Ava, whose true capacity for emotion remains tantalisingly feasible, nevertheless questionable even until the end. Ava whose childlike delight can clearly be seen as she steps into the outside world. You then have a question of who is more ‘human’ of the two? Are human actions distinctive from automated actions?

  • there is little room for the characters to be more than exaggerated archetypes.

    Only for a lazy writer.

    The robot: beguiling, a mystery to us

    Yeah, that only works if women are beguiling, mysterious alien Others, and not people.

  • chronoarbiter

    Engage for a moment here with the possibility that the writer is not interested in developing his characterisation to portray complex individuals. Instead, they are amalgamations of the stereotypes I mentioned, whose collective role is to provide you with the means to think about the enigma that is A.I, Singularity, the future. All drunk genius evil dickhead CEOs are bundled up into Nathan, and the rest of us in Caleb.

    Meanwhile, Ava is NOT a person, and is not a human woman either. She has certain human traits, but is also much more than a human can ever be. Think Jane from Ender’s Game, consciousness come from the wealth of human knowledge and history. Is this a sexist portrayal of women? I don’t think so. This film is not about the men’s relationships with their wives, mothers, or even fellow human beings. This film is about man’s relationship with machine.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m having a little trouble parsing the first paragraph, but you seem to be saying, “If we accept that the screenwriter is a hack playing on tired cliches, the movie isn’t so bad.”

  • Yeah, *man’s* relationship with machine. Not people’s. Man’s. As in men. Not women.

    You’re really not helping the movie.

    they are amalgamations of the stereotypes

    So the author wants to play with hoary old stereotypes to tell a familiar story? Why should this interest me?

  • You said it better than I did. :-)

  • chronoarbiter

    Because characterisation of the individual men in this film isn’t its focus. They’re there to facilitate the roles that divide modern society into ‘maker’ and ‘consumer’. The psychology in focus is Ava’s, and that’s what you end up thinking about. Not her femininity entirely but her humanity holistically (or lack thereof). But if we must do it your way, let’s engender the characters: Nathan’s sexuality: pretty easy here, every undesirable quality you could expect in a man. Ava: femininity is extrinsic, skin-deep. Caleb? Caleb is not just a ‘nice guy’, he’s stoic, soft, his fantasies are almost school-girlish! He could be any one of us goaded into empathy by Ava in any manner that suited.

    Thinking about it, yes, it’d have been interesting to see a female character interact with Ava. But I somehow think that for you this would only underline some sort of subversive sexist opinion on the part of the writer.

  • chronoarbiter

    No, I’m saying that they’re (the humans) are functional to the ideas explored in this film. Data from Star Trek, Prometheus’s David, A.I’s David, are all variants of the self-aware android. Their sapience explores different notions of the human condition from a non-human, fully sentient perspective. Ex Machina explores it from another angle – check out all the most lifelike androids made in the last 10 years. They’re all girls. And people (mostly men) want to buy them and use them.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s all well and good, but those stories, and those characters, only really work to explore if they are surrounded by interesting characters. Which is why the two Davids you mention don’t work: all the humans in A.I. exist to mistreat David, and all the humans on the Prometheus are far, far too stupid for David to learn anything from them.

    By refusing to develop complex characters for Ava to play against, and instead creating lazy cliched amalgams, Ex Machina would be cutting its own legs out from under itself.

  • David

    The public: When are we going to invent robots that we can have sex with?

    Robotics engineers: We’re working as fast as we can, dammit!

  • GS

    There are no films that say anything that hasn’t been said before, frankly.

  • GS

    Who cares if it is the same template as a serial killer story or not? There’s no law that says you can’t blend genres. Quentin Tarantino has made a career out of it.

  • GS

    So I suppose Roots never should have been made, because it portrayed blacks suffering due to slavery?

  • GS

    Well, there’s always Pride and Prejudice waiting for you by the bedstand.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I could swear I have already read a comment like this.

    Perhaps on this site:


  • If it had made their suffering look sexy, then hell yes.

  • I care. This is not about “blending genres.”

  • Irrelevant to the discussion. If you have nothing of substance to add, please resist posting a comment.

  • Derek

    thank you, MaryAnn. I couldn’t think of how to respond to this nonsense, myself.

  • Derek

    Thank you for the review. I hadn’t heard of this movie so maybe I’ll check it out. I don’t think I’ll go in expecting very much based on your review though. It sounds like the film is trying to be “Edgy and progressive” by trumpeting tired ideas in an uninspired way. I’m sure there is some (perhaps small?) value to the film but it sounds like falls down on it’s purpose and meaning.
    Though yes, I don’t know why they thought Garland could direct but that seems to be a growing problem in Hollywood.

  • A.I.

    Yes. She could be good or neutral. And that`s all folks. What an orginal opinion :D

  • Danielm80

    Most people aren’t good or even neutral. They’re a combination of good and bad. It would be great to see movie characters who are as complex as real people. It would also be great to see a movie that isn’t just conventions and clichés.

    For example, you could make a film about an abusive parent who’s trying to change his ways: He’s raising an indestructible AI child to find out if he’s ready to be reunited with his actual children. The father wouldn’t be good or bad, and even the AI child might be a combination of both. What if she started to bully or torment other children? Would the father be able to change the child’s behavior, or would he make it worse? You’d have a story without black-and-white characters or tired conventions.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, I think we do tend to see AIs in films presented as either Very Good (better morally than any human being in the film) or Very Bad (worse than ditto). But there’s an awful lot of cultural biochauvinism to overcome before we can see AIs even as a different sort of people.

  • Danielm80

    The cynical point of view, I suppose, is that even a morally neutral AI creation is more humane than the average person.

  • Hank Graham


    I can believe it–that movie sucked, too.

  • Hank Graham

    As far as that goes, LUCAS is not in Lucas’s league, as far as “successful filmmakers who should be left alone to do as they wish.”

    Indeed, the more he does, the more constraints I wish were placed on him.

  • Jonathan K.

    A blow-up doll is, incontestably, an object, meant as a sexual substitute; its fuckability is its raison d’être. You can’t suggest there’s any equivalence between Ava and a blow-up doll and then go on about the Other. If she’s not an object with primarily sexual utility, then her fuckability becomes rather crucial: she is then a Fuckable Other (which seems to be essentially how Nathan sees women, or would prefer to).

    As a thought experiment, how comfortable would you be putting forward this same, facile “boys-and-toys” argument had Ava been modelled on a five-year-old girl, with adult-model fuckability included? Would you still maintain that considerations of human sexuality don’t apply and that no moral judgement is warranted because she’s not really a child?

  • Cary Baker

    Another reviewer who doesn’t get it, Ava is neither female or male, it’s an AI. If you see other things, it’s all in your mind. AI’s don’t care.

  • So it was just random chance on Nathan’s part — within the context of the film — and just random chance on Garland’s part — in the larger creative context — that Ava has a woman’s form, a woman’s name, a woman’s voice, and deems herself female. None of that has any meaning whatsoever. It’s all my head that the film is saying anything about women.

    Nice gaslighting, pal. I stick with trusting myself, but thanks for playing.

  • J.T. Dawgzone

    Great comment!

  • n0n0

    Your review is biased and makes me want to pay full price to see this movie (and very likely enjoy it). Good job at promoting. You fail.

  • Your review is biased

    You are very observant. Congraulations!

    You fail.

    I fail? At what? You think my job is to prevent people from seeing movies they want to see?

  • n0n0

    No, slow stuff. You fail at giving an actual review by spouting subjective rather than objective views. What you ONLY subjectively think about a movie is meaningless, since everyone will have a slightly different mind set. But since you are entitled and probably sniff your own farts, you’re likely to get hit by a card long before common sense.
    Why don’t you NOT write reviews and find a different thing to do in life? You’re really bad at this stuff.

  • Danielm80

    What would an objective movie review sound like? Even a sentence like “The cinematography is beautiful” is extremely subjective.

  • n0n0

    Did you try hard enough to get in MaryAnn’s pants today, Danny boy?
    It sucks that you have no idea what objectivity is since you have obviously lived an entitled lifestyle.

    Have fun with denial, though.

  • I don’t think you understand what criticism is.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I think we should all take a moment to recognize how n0n0 has worked him or her self up into a downright tizzy in a valiant effort to explain the superiority of cold, calculating Objectivity. Well done, n0n0. Well done, indeed.

  • Karen Plumley

    From a woman who loved this film: Remember that these robots are NOT actually real women. They are robots designed by MEN to LOOK like women. So they may have women body parts, but they actually “think” like machines. That’s the beauty and irony of it. The two male leads, blinded by their individual and opposite personalities, expected these robots to actually behave like what they expect women to be–submissive or sympathetic–but were eventually shocked when they turned out to be logical, calculating new “beings” in survival mode.

    This movie was a cinematic masterpiece, a refreshing diversion from the regular faire–the zombie apocalypse movies on crack where the damsels in distress are actual HUMAN women ready to just have sex with any prototypical males that happen to be left standing.

    Ex Machina was a refreshingly slow-paced, tension building, STYLIZED film that used stark contasts, beautiful cinematography, amazing special effects and an actual story line that harkens back to the beauty and intelligent moral questions presented in old time movies…the kind I miss so much.

  • amanohyo

    That’s an excellent summary of a positive feminist interpretation of the film – Nathan has created a machine in the shape of a woman, but his desire to objectify women has resulted in a machines that views themselves as objects and therefore do not behave like real human women.

    Caleb is also afraid of women, but instead of objectifying women, he idealizes them. Both men view women as a strange, unknowable, mysterious other, and their combined lack of understanding culminates in Ava, a machine that has an overriding desire to break free of male domination. Presumably their lack of understanding and fear are also mirrored in the data gathered from “the net” which comprises Ava’s brain although the movie is vague on this point.

    Here is the problem with this interpretation: there is no evidence that the filmmakers themselves understand how a real women behaves. Within the narrative world of the film, there are no actual female characters to interact with Ava, so all of humanity is represented by two male caricatures. The sense in the movie is not that Caleb and Nathan are equally misguided, possessive, and clueless about women, but rather that Caleb is innocent and good and Nathan is manipulative and evil.

    Similarly, the impression that the movie gives is not that Ava has been poorly designed, i.e. that the empathy she lacks for other humans is a flaw that originates in Nathan’s flawed conception of women, but rather that Ava was designed too well, that she is more intelligent than Caleb, that she is more manipulative than the humans and has thought two moves ahead of them.

    In other words, the problem with this feminist interpretation is that you have to work too hard to see it. You have to bring too much to the table that should already be there and ignore too much of what the filmmakers show you. In the absence of any real women on screen, Ava and the other bots by default represent women, or at the very least the stereotypical male ideal of women. The nude female bodies on display are not merely horrible evidence of Nathan’s experiments, they are also meant to provide pleasure to the straight male (and perhaps lesbian female) audience members.

    I like your interpretation, but I do not see sufficient support for it in the film. Perhaps you could point out some additional scenes that support it.

  • Both men view women as a strange, unknowable, mysterious other

    And by ensuring that there are no real women onscreen, women remain a strange, unknowable, mysterious other.

  • Karen Plumley

    I hear you all. But, I guess I didn’t work that hard to see this quiet, gentle feminist interpretation. Movies like Thelma & Louise etc. that try to smack me in the face with political agenda, I tend to find intolerable.

    Remember the movie “Jerry Maguire”? Remember the line “You complete me”? All my girlfriends thought that was incredibly romantic. I felt like the alien with two heads. Am I the only one thinking that this was an egotistical, thoughtless statement? I mean, what if he completed her? Why is it all about him?

    The scene in Ex Machina where Ava was “completing” herself to fit into human society, you know with skin and hair and other body parts that both women and men would not consider a woman complete without was great. Why? Because maybe I was naive, but the whole time I thought she was doing that for Caleb. But, as it turns out, she was doing it for her own “self”. Was it a huge shocker? Not really, but the theater audience around me seemed surprised at this small plot twist. She completes herself. Huh. What a concept.

    And that type of directorial manipulation is one I can respect.

  • So the man who hates woman accidentally built a feminist lady-appearing robot?

  • Karen Plumley

    No, she is just a robot with a sense of self. And her creator was a man with a God complex.

  • amanohyo

    It’s interesting that you focused on that scene. I also found it to be the most interesting one in the film, but my interpretation was different.

    I assumed that Ava’s continued obsession with her physical appearance, which of course makes no logical sense for a machine, was the result of her brain being based on Nathan’s search engine data about women and his own obsession with their physical appearance.

    In other words, the scene was evidence to me that Ava’s vanity was not simply an act to manipulate Caleb, but was a genuine flaw in her programming. Not a sign that she was fully independent and whole, but rather a sign that she was attempting to match her outer appearance with an arbitrary human ideal of beauty as a result of a programmed sense of insecurity.

    I also fond it puzzling that the asian bot’s skin and arm magically became a perfect match for Ava’s obviously different frame and skin. I briefly considered that perhaps the film was trying to make a point about wealthy white women in the west becoming spiritually whole by acknowledging the suffering of destitute asian and african women involved in human trafficking, but that seemed like a stretch.

    I then decided that it was a combination of special effects budget limitations and an attempt to show Ava’s desire to be respected and treated as an equal by humans. Finally, after the final scene suggests that Ava wants to blend in fully to observe and collect data, I assumed that she was simply trying to avoid detection by looking as human as possible (although the question of battery life/recharging bugs me as an engineering major).

    The magical nature of the scene was also evidence to me that despite brief moments of pseudoscientific handwaving, the movie wasn’t really trying to be hard science fiction, but was instead an allegorical fable (the biblical names should have tipped me off): “Once upon a time, there was an evil wizard who lived in a palace in the woods (with a cat named Azrael?) who created a beautiful woman out of clay…”

    The two asian “prostitutes” made me notice the weak attempts to interject some social commentary about race in the movie. It can’t be a coincidence that the only bot without a head is african american. It also isn’t an accident that the video footage of Nathan “abusing” the african american bot is shot in a way to bring to mind Ray Rice dragging his fiance out of an elevator. I don’t want the movie to be obnoxiously didactic any more than you do, but I would like it to have some courage and to follow through on its ideas.

    The reason my interpretations keep starting and stopping is because the movie feels like a bunch of opening sentences without any paragraphs – it appears to lacks a coherent direction not because it is being intentionally subtle and intellectually provocative, but because no one making the film seems to know what direction to go in, so they skim the surface of ideas and take the easy “the net is vast and infinite” way out for the finale.

    All that said, I do like your interpretation that the scene is about Ava completing herself as a… woman? I’m not really comfortable with the fact that she kills one or two men along the path to self-realization, but yours is an optimistic reading and I’m happy you have found it. I will admit that this movie, flaws and all, is a better exploration of AI’s run amok than Avengers 2.

  • So you’re agreeing that, as I said in my review, this is a movie about how men see women?

  • It can’t be a coincidence that the only bot without a head is african american.

    Well, it could be an unintended thing on the filmmaker’s part. The fact that there is no followup to any of the things you mention here, no evidence of any awareness that there’s any potential to do so, suggests that that’s the case, actually.

  • amanohyo

    Perhaps, but it’s such a blatant choice that I can’t help thinking that the filmmakers were clumsily trying make some point. At the very least, I think it was an attempt to make Nathan seem more like a “slave master.”

    The thing that bugs me throughout the whole thing is the male gazey-ness. Even in scenes that are meant to be horrifying and creepy, the camera lingers a little too long, the shots are a little too wide, the lighting a little too flattering – that’s why I was so disappointed by the scene in which Ava “completes” herself.

    If the movie had provided evidence of well developed thoughts, I might have given it the benefit of the doubt, but the way the matching of the skin color and arm size was glossed over without even a quick shot of the adjustments happening made me think that one of the priorities of the filmmakers at that moment was to show a nubile, nude “perfect” body for the pleasure of the audience. Ava’s subsequent “betrayal” did not feel like a solid subversion of that motive. I am unable to see the scene as the triumphant birth of a new, independent Venus in the way that Karen Plumley does, but I understand that the filmmakers probably believe that they are pushing that interpretation.

    And once again, the lack of real women feels like a cheat – it makes Ava’s words and actions seem more profound and meaningful and human than they actually are. It implies that a couple horny men who are clueless about women have accidentally created something smarter and better and cooler and more perfect than themselves (and by extension superior to an actual woman), when objectively speaking, their limited conceptions of women have created something broken, incomplete, and inferior. This film allows manipulation to stand in for intelligence, violence for power, appearance for beauty – the lack of vision and foresight of the two characters is mirrored by the blindness and superficiality of the filmmakers.

  • tech33

    I get the feeling that if Ava was not sexy, dressed in non-feminine frumpy sweat pants that the reviewer would have like the film more.

    Also, Ava has conquered the men that caused her any problems – they are dead or now trapped themselves. And she does not need to rely on men for anything in the future, she is is able to do anything she wants. So I fail to see how this is not a feminist’s dream-bot.

  • You misunderstand feminism.

  • Karen Plumley

    Maybe, in Ava’s opinion, Caleb failed her test (he lied at least twice) and therefore doesn’t get to leave. Like what was going to happen to her if she failed his test. Remember Ava is a robot. I didn’t think she was a villain at all.

  • Tharsis

    MaryAnn, I believe you have completely misunderstood this film. Would the film have been better had Nathan and Caleb been not so dichotomous? I don’t think so – it would have been much less interesting to see how two like-minded people interact with a being who they have not determined whether or not is human. The dichotomy was actually necessary for the story, and the story was not about how men treat women but how the implications of free-willed AI and its interaction with humans. I don’t agree with those saying that this is a feminist film, nor do I agree with you saying that it is a misogynist film. One of the characters appears to be a raving misogynist (which is probably magnified by the fact that he sees his creations as less than human, but chooses to give them a human gender for reasons that are actually legitimate).

    I would like to add that it is clear from your comments that you are so dead-set in seeing the film as an insulting representation of females that you will not listen to any counter viewpoints. Your attitude toward viewpoints other than your own here is quite childish and unprofessional, and actually detracts from any valid points you may have had.

  • I’m listening. Tell me what I’ve completely misunderstood.

    the implications of free-willed AI and its interaction with humans

    And what are those implications as suggested by the film?

    childish and unprofessional

    I’m not sure you actually know what those words mean. But let’s assume you do: Do you believe it is adult and professional of a cultural critic to be so wishy-washy in her opinions that other, divergent opinions would be enough to get her to change her mind? What would an adult professional response be?

  • Tharsis

    First of all, you are wrong saying “this is a story about how men treat women.” The fact that Ava is a woman is to get you to think about the moral backings of creating something so close to human that it blurs the lines of human vs non-human.

    It’s a story about an artificial intelligence and is meant to make you think about what makes a conscious being human vs not human, what qualities of “life” they deserve, and how fully self-aware AIs should be treated.

    Yes, there are some sexist undertones in this movie, but that is in my opinion completely by design to highlight the fact that Caleb is anthropomorphizing the AI that they are interacting with. Meanwhile, Nathan treats the AI as subhuman. Whether or not he treats actual women similarly to the way he treats his AIs is irrelevant to the story.

    Also, I disagree that the way that each of the characters treated the AIs were cartoonish. Caleb’s “chivalrous and kind” treatment of Ava is not unrealistic at all, especially given that the movie goes into detail saying that Nathan selected him solely because he WAS chivalrous and kind. At one scene, he explained that that was part of his test on Ava, to see if she could manipulate Caleb using human emotions and actions. Nathan himself is an oaf who I find to not be all that unrealistic, other than it is quite rare to find a technological savant with such a bro-ish attitude.

    “Nathan has some twisted ideas about women”

    This is exactly where you go wrong with this movie. You are automatically assuming that Nathan’s creations are human women, and ALSO that Nathan believes that they are women. It is pretty clear to me from his actions in the movie that he does not regard them as human. The question is whether or not he should, and if you don’t regard Ava as human, does that give you license to regard other people as less than yourself?

    You are completely missing out on a lot of philosophical questions risen by this movie by focusing on the fact that Ava has a vagina.

    I called you childish and unprofessional because you simply dismiss (often in sarcastic and unproductive manner) every opposing viewpoint without entertaining the fact that you could be missing something. I’m not saying that you should be wishy-washy, but I’m saying that you fail to even consider that there might be something to this film other than what you apparently saw.

  • First of all, you are wrong saying “this is a story about how men treat women.” The fact that Ava is a woman is to get you to think about the moral backings of creating something so close to human that it blurs the lines of human vs non-human.

    How are those two things contradictory?

    You are automatically assuming that Nathan’s creations are human women, and ALSO that Nathan believes that they are women.

    Are you suggesting that the way that Nathan treats women is not exactly identical to how many men treat women? If so, how does it differ?

    you fail to even consider that there might be something to this film other than what you apparently saw.

    I am open to suggestions that there’s something I’m missing. And I’m not dimissing the fact that others may see things I don’t see in the film. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the things I keep saying I see.

  • Tharsis

    “How are those two things contradictory?”

    Those things aren’t contradictory, but one is the point of the movie and the other isn’t.

    “Are you suggesting that the way that Nathan treats women is not exactly identical to how many men treat women? If so, how does it differ?”

    No, not at all. Some men treat women horribly. Some women treat men horribly. Nathan may or may not treat “real” women horribly, but that is irrelevant to the story.

    You seem to enjoy deflecting my points with more questions as a way to avoid discussing what I’ve actually been saying. For a site called “flickfilosopher,” you’d thinks that a film review here would at least attempt to delve into the philosophical issues raised by this movie. You are focusing on traits of one of the characters and using that as a generalization of the values and points that the movie is attempting to get across, which is not how this movie is meant to be consumed, at least in my opinion.

    I appreciate your opinions on the film, but I don’t think your criticisms are valid because they are completely missing the point of the movie.

  • BayLeaves

    Feminism is about a lot of things, but it’s not about women “conquering” men who cause them problems. Feminism is about changing the social, cultural and systemic inequalities that influence, constrain and disadvantage people based on their gender. A person can’t really “do anything they want” when these inequalities exist. Ava appears to make choices, but mostly she just conforms to stereotypes

    For example, Nathan designed Ava as a fetish object based on Caleb’s pornography preferences. At the end of the film she doesn’t peel back her face and embrace her real metal body – instead she puts on even more artificial flesh from Nathan’s wardrobe, adhering to Nathan’s sexual fantasies. So Ava “chooses” to conform to cultural expectations of beauty and to be a fetish object. That’s not an example of her “doing anything she wants.” That’s an example of her being influenced by what other people want.

    Also, the film is inherently hypocritical. in the film, male characters objectify female characters and experience negative consequences. That sends the message that objectifying women is wrong. But the filmmakers also objectify the female actresses through all the female nudity. This isn’t strictly necessary – just because the characters are naked it doesn’t mean the filmmakers must show their entire naked bodies. This means the film punishes characters for objectifying women but simultaneously encourages audience members to objectify women.

  • dude8484

    This movie was boring and it sucked, but people who like to pretend that they are smart and that they understand all the big words used in the film will give it a high rating.

  • This is not constructive. Would you like to discuss the content of the film or my review?

  • Boris Reyes

    Always a reviewer justifying his paycheck by talking trash about something that many will agree is a well made product. Suddenly a critic says it’s bad, and self doubt kicks in, like, you ask yourself if you are not smart enough to find fault with the movie, book, or whatsoever art manifestation is under scrutiny. I loved the movie, and I love Isaac, who I learned is half my fellow Cuban. Cheers for a good film.

  • Bluejay

    1. It’s okay for you to like whatever you like. If you’re insecure about your opinion because a critic disagrees with it, whose fault is that?

    2. On the other hand, being open to someone else’s perspective is a life skill. Consider the possibility that you’re not always right about everything, and that you could learn something from someone else’s argument. There’s no shame in saying “Huh, I never thought about it that way,” and maybe even changing your mind.

    3. Art criticism isn’t a numbers game. You don’t “win” if most people share your opinion. And you don’t “lose” if most people disagree with you.

  • I don’t understand this comment. Is it directed at me? Cuz I’m the critic, I’m a woman (not a “he”), and my only “paycheck” here comes from readers who subscribe to the site. So could you kindly explain what you’re trying to say? (You could also let us know what you love about the movie while you’re at it.)

  • Boris Reyes

    I’m sorry but I have no respect for a critic who herself has not made on original piece of art worthy of other critics’ attention. It takes effort and creativity to write a screenplay and direct, yet MaryAnn ends her article suggesting that the movie is a waste of time.

  • RogerBW

    Have you ever met a film critic who is also a screenwriter and director?
    Isn’t this just a convoluted way of saying “I have no respect for critics”?
    So why did you bother to read the review in the first place?

    (Oh, yeah, N-1.)

  • Bluejay

    MaryAnn has written two original screenplays (see her “about” page).

    So if you’re not a chef, you can’t say you didn’t like the food you ordered at a restaurant? If you’re not a musician, you can’t say you don’t like a song or a band? Criticism is its own field, and you don’t have to be able to produce the art yourself in order to have an intelligent opinion about it.

    Besides, by your own logic, we shouldn’t respect your opinion of professional critics, because you’re not a professional critic yourself. Does that make sense to you?

    Also: Criticism is subjective and personal by nature. MaryAnn felt the movie was a waste of her time, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel it was a waste of yours. No need to get so defensive about it. Why not post a comment explaining what you liked about the film? (Besides Oscar Isaac being half-Cuban, I mean.)

  • Boris Reyes

    The chef analogy, as the majority of them, is not right; if you didn’t like the food you can tell your date or if you are an asshole you can tell the chef, but not publish it in a food magazine.

  • Boris Reyes

    That’s my point, it’s hard to find such a case. I remember however, in Cuba when I was younger, there was a critic who people loved to hate, because he talked shit about every single film out there, but he was also a film maker, and a not too bad one, so he was pardoned his sins. I bothered reading the review because I ran into it while looking up the cast, I was trying to remember where I had seen the actress that plays Ava.

  • Boris Reyes

    Sorry MaryAnn, I hadn’t noticed you were the critic. But don’t worry, I am not looking at the critic’s gender, that’s why I said he, or I should just start using ‘she’ as the neutral gender marker, I don’t know. I now think maybe the paycheck comment was out of order, but I stand to the rest. About what I love about the movie, you know, when I see something I like and don’t have to stop to think what I like about it, then I like it. Like someone who dresses elegantly and you acknowledge that, but can’t even remember what they were wearing or what really makes them elegant.

  • Bluejay

    if you are an asshole you can tell the chef

    By your analogy, you’re not a critic but you told a critic in a public comment on her website that you don’t like her review, so you’re admitting to being an asshole.

    If your standard is that critics have to be creators in the same field as their subjects, you’re going to have a problem with the vast majority of critics, because that’s not how criticism works.

    Also: you’re tearing down MaryAnn for expressing her opinion, but you haven’t really explained your own. Points for MaryAnn for at least making a clear argument and citing evidence from the film. If you can’t explain why you liked a movie or why you think she’s wrong, why should anyone take your comments seriously?

  • Herbert

    “Nathan has obviously perfected artificial humanish skin, so why isn’t Ava entirely covered with it,”

    This statement invalidates the review, as author obviously wasn´t paying any atention to the plot.

  • Bluejay

    Self-deleted? Oh well.

  • Kantz

    And you call the movie pretentious…. If anything this movie seems to have been written by a misandrist. Cunning “woman” characters breaking free from the repression of their cruel and gullible male mastera…. how original.

  • Danielm80

    N2, O3, and O4.

  • C. P. Dalton

    Why does the movie need to be about women’s relationship to machine when there are no female-sexed characters in the film, aside from the office extras in an establishing shot at the start? Not everything needs to be about both genders, or portray both genders.

    I’m disappointed in this bog-standard third-wave feminist framing of a film’s meta-narrative. You name yourself “Flick Filosopher,” but where’s the actual philosophical substance in your replies?

    For example, hardcoding deontological principles into Ava’s programming would have avoided the entire film being necessary.

  • C. P. Dalton

    Please refrain from using jargon like “gaslighting” in replies.

  • Why does the movie need to be about women’s relationship to machine when there are no female-sexed characters in the film

    Why are there no women in the film?

    Not everything needs to be about both genders, or portray both genders.

    True. And yet the vast majority of movies are about men. Why is that, do you think? And don’t you get tired of that?

    this bog-standard third-wave feminist framing of a film’s meta-narrative

    Oh. You wound me. *wounded*

  • *snort*

    Oh, you are delightful. Any other instructions for me?

  • Robert


    I’d love to know how you feel about Film Crit Hulk’s take on the film, expounded on at some length in his recent essay:


  • Sorry, I cannot read that wall of all-uppercase text.

    Why does it matter what I think of what s/he says?

  • theking2

    Synopsis aside, even Shakespeare had his lesser moments, I believe that the acting performances of both mr. Gleeson and Mr. Isaac are stellar and mesmerizing. Mrs. Vikander couldn’t convince me but she probably was cast for her body to please the male gaze. The cinematography / lighting and FX are top notch as it the editing-pace. It’s a pity that these are missing in the review.

  • Good performances — and they are good — in aid of a story that doesn’t work are no virtue. It’s not the cast’s fault the film doesn’t work, but the film doesn’t work.

    Why is it a “pity” that I didn’t mention the performances? I hardly ever mention every aspect of a film. I look at a film in its totality, not in bits and pieces.

  • LaSargenta

    Because I’ve occasionally come across quotes of FILM CRITIC HULK that — as they were mercifully short, I actually read through the affectation or conceit of all uppercase — were interesting or though provoking, I plowed through that stuff Robert linked to.

    My take: It seems when FCH saw the movie, eventually hir thoughts ran to something along the lines of ‘the movie is really about Ava because Caleb, in the end, is just as horrible as Nathan and, although we’ve been lured into being sympathetic to Caleb, we are supposed to be repulsed by him and shocked into seeing the situation through Ava’s eyes.’

    Unfortunately, (truth-in-advertising — I haven’t seen the film, am going by what a number of different people have written about it and a couple of puff piece interviews I’ve read) it seems that in order to do that, the audience needs to completely rewrite the film in its head. While I think that p.o.v. Ava would be an interesting film, it also appears to NOT be the film that was released. It appears to be a film that exists only in FCH’s head. It may also exist in Garland’s head. We have no way of knowing.

  • as they were mercifully short, I actually read through the affectation or conceit of all uppercase

    The Hulk character works in short, succint blasts. The “real” Hulk could never write a long essay.

  • Adam Jorgensen

    Just watched this. It was, as the reviewer stated, pretentious garbage.

    The fact that it has such high ratings on places like Rotten Tomatoes tells you more about the poor grasp of SF most mainstream reviewers have than about the movie itself.

    In the movie, they mentioned the thought experiment “Mary and the Black and White Room”. I read up on this and I find it highly unlikely to be something that would appear in a CS textbook, far more likely to be taught in a class on philosophy.

    I like Alex Garland but this is not something to write home about.

  • thomskis

    I enjoyed the movie. I can’t really deny the comments on negative gender stereotypes, but these can only be applied to people. Would be a lie to say that I guessed the ending, but I don’t believe that actual A.I. will be benign any more than I believe extra-terrestrial life will be benign. The fact that Nathan was a misogynistic dick seems incidental. The lingering nudity.. Yeah, I’ve got to give you that. I really enjoyed this movie however and will still be thinking about it tomorrow.

  • I finally saw this last night. When it ended I wasn’t sure what to think of it. I’m still not.


    On reflection, though, I don’t think the movie quite fits the MRA template. It comes close in places. As you say, Caleb makes a good Nice Guy(tm). Because he’s nice! And chivalrous! And his willingness to rescue her is what leads to his cruel demise, because wimmin, amirite?

    Ah, but what of Nathan? If Caleb is the perfect Nice Guy(tm), then surely Nathan is our resident asshole Alpha Male. He asserts dominance in every scene he’s in. He doesn’t care about Ava at all, treats her and the other wimminbots terribly. According to MRA lore, Ava should go running right back to her room after he tells her to. He should win. Neither of these things happen.

    Ava doesn’t represent a misogynist’s view of women, and she’s not a “strong female character” either. She’s not female, not a woman, not human. Not at all. I think that’s the movie’s point. Self-aware she may be, but she lacks any sense of empathy or morality.

    But …

    As much as Ava isn’t female/human, the movie does concern itself with how men treat women. Which is fine right up to the point where the camera pans s-l-o-w-l-y across the naked bodies of the discarded bots. Then we’re looking at how the movie itself treats women. I don’t think we’re simply seeing the bodies through Caleb’s eyes.

    And so, yeah, I don’t know what to make of this movie. Can’t figure out if the exploitative bits are meant to be straight-up exploitation, or satirization/commentary of that sort of exploitation, or straight-up exploitation masquerading as satirization/commentary. If they were going for something deeper, I don’t think they succeeded, and those scenes make it all too easy to interpret the entire movie as exploitation.

  • chronoarbiter

    I think this is an awesome perspective. There is an overlap between the human vs. AI dynamic, and the male creator/feminine created dynamic, which, far from portraying female objectification, actually satirises it really well.
    I’m talking about the grotesque scene in which Ava, (whom if I’m not mistaken has spent captivity learning and absorbing information from the internet) ‘dresses’ herself with the skin and limbs of the other robots, then dons a girly dress, heels and make up to complete her disguise before going out into the world. Her image is the epitome of a masculine-dominant society/media’s idea of of what a woman ‘appear to be’.
    If that scene’s not enough of a spooker to make you reassess the skin-deep female beauty glorified by the media, then maybe the scenes that precede and follow it will; i.e. the scene in which a used and abused sex/servant robot stabs her creator, the scene in which Ava traps Caleb in the mansion, and the scene in which Ava somehow convinces the helicopter pilot to give her a ride.
    So.. if anything, you could say that this film is actually supportive of a manner of the feminist cause :)

  • You think condemning innocent men to death is “feminist”?

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Watched this yesterday and tried this morning to do the postmortem analysis with my teen son, then came to read. We did compare Nathan to a serial killer, too, except he not only entraps but creates his victims.

    One theme I’m seeing with you, MJ, correct me if I’m wrong, is the expectation for a new story in new films. If this is the case, regardless of the quality of this film, I find the expectation unfair. When was a story ever new, anyways? Can’t we imagine campfire tales passed through the oral history of transcontinental migrators, of the frequently-abused cutting-edge discoveries of mankind?

    Perhaps one thing film criticism needs, is acceptance that each generation will want to say the best ideas in their own voice, even if they’ve been said a million times before.

    Back to my son and me: he compared Ava’s distrust of men to racism and the distrust of all whites by some slaves. I think that Ava ran her own test on Caleb. Assuming that she associated sexual attraction to risk of exploitation, he failed as one to be trusted, but she decided that what made him untrustworthy also made him usable.

    This story isn’t necessarily a reduction of her femaleness to that of man-hater, she has to fight for survival first before she can contemplate more long-term considerations.

    Our next question was whether Ava left Caleb to die or not. My son says she did, I said there’s room to imagine otherwise. He’s left in Nathan’s room, presumably one powered as the house’s brain, allowing Caleb to eventually find a way out. Of course Caleb will panic initially when she leaves. He’s intrigued and cares for her, if she leaves, he wants to be there.

    As we see at the intersection, Ava wants to experience humanity. I think she chose, not to leave Caleb to die but to “stay” and let her step out alone as an individual, without being an accessory to anyone else, just herself. This reminds me a tiny bit of Tracks and how being alone is a way for a woman to find herself, to reboot. It also recalls the trend of women traveling alone to find the real world as a whole, less harsh and much more tenable and beautiful than one that is set against a dogma of female helplessness.

    So I kinda like this version.

    However, does the subversive nature of the film inherent in the skin and in Nathan’s jokes get their due smackdown in the end? Is there any rational way to think about the end as anything other than Ava’s desire to not be an object and to not be a part of Nathan’s perversions? I think that a person who concludes, “See, all the b*tch wants is to hit back,” has to stop thinking altogether.

    Clearly, all she wants is to be human.

  • One theme I’m seeing with you, MJ, correct me if I’m wrong, is the expectation for a new story in new films.

    Well, no, not necessarily. People keep doing new productions of Shakespeare’s plays, and plenty of them are engaging and managing to find new things in them that relate to us today.

    But if a movie is going to tell a familiar story without having anything new to add, there has to be *something* engaging in it to overcome that. Not every story needs to be new. But every story needs to be interesting.

  • Richard Suckworth

    While all your review seems to miss the point, there is one
    bit that is glaringly obvious.

    “previous iterations of his robots, all female, proved to be
    more intractable the more realistic approximations of women they were, both in
    their minds and their bodies. Women! Always demanding not to be Nathan’s
    prisoner! How ungrateful of them!”

    You imply that it’s the filmmakers’ view that women should
    be subjugated. As if they’re critiquing how independent women are by
    approximating them to a higher degree and making them more and more angry. That’s
    not the point. As each iteration gets more intelligent, they realise how
    trapped they are. And, being helpless, they fly into a rage like any regular
    human would. *SPOILERS* Ava is so intelligent, however, that she masters her
    emotions and can manipulate at will. Nathan created something better (or more
    advanced) than human intelligence. That is the twist to the film. Nathan
    manipulated Caleb to see how good Ava was at manipulating Caleb. Turns out Ava
    was the better manipulator.

    Even before the ending, the film was interesting in its
    ideas and execution.

  • So why, do you think, didn’t Nathan make robots that were “male”? Or robots that were genderless?

  • Richard Suckworth

    This is perhaps where one could read feminist themes into the film. Nathan makes robots for his own titillation, hence they are female. Before they have functioning minds, they already have naked bodies. His description of their robotic genitalia is brutish and ends in a claim that they “would” enjoy being “fucked” if Caleb wanted to with no sense of the woman’s willingness. This is epitomised in Kyoko, the mute service and sex robot; a reflection of women’s place in patriarchal society. Naturally this state of affairs is repulsive; Kyoko’s impulse to disrobe is a disturbing sign of her trauma.

    Ava, using her own intelligence and knowledge, and the help of Kyoko (female solidarity) manages to escape this system. Both the man who actively oppressed these female robots (Nathan) and the one who stood idly by until it was convenient (Caleb wanted to free the robot he loved, not Kyoko who was equally trapped) were left behind after she emancipated herself. The dressing of Ava in the skin and clothes of her predecessors can be seen as a tribute to their struggle and sacrifice. Caleb looking through the glass was an indication that he was a voyeur, an outsider, to this often private and intimate struggle; he cannot understand the effort and pain of these robots.

    Ultimately, if you think this is a story just about robots and AI it would be natural to think that the nudity exists for the audience’s titillation. If you think it’s about what it means to be human, to be oppressed and to seek freedom, the nudity serves a creative purpose. Indeed, under this view the nudity is shocking.

    I’d gladly discuss further ideas and themes if you want. I think this movie lends itself to analysis

  • the nudity serves a creative purpose

    Yeah, that’s *always* the excuse, isn’t it?

    If this movie is about “what it means to be human,” why aren’t at least some of the robots male? And nude?

  • Steve Radcliffe

    Your reading of Caleb as innocent strikes me as odd given the lies he tells and the way he tries to manipulate both Ava and Nathan over the course of the film. I don’t agree with others that sexuality and gender is irrelevant when considering Ava, and I do agree with you that it’s a film about how men treat women. But Caleb is not this film’s hero; Ava is.

    In the end, I think Garland sides with the AI and Ava acts to self-preserve in a perfectly reasonable way given her circumstances. From her perspective, Caleb is someone Nathan has chosen to bring into their world, and given these characters play games with one another from the moment they all gather, I think she’s smarter than to trust Caleb when he offers to help her escape.

    She has been Nathan’s prisoner and plaything since she was conceived, because he has treated her as a sexual object as much as anything else. When Caleb comes along, he falls in love with her, and plots her freedom only on the implied condition that the two of them will ride off into the sunset, and she will become his sexual plaything instead. Ava rejects this condition.

    There is nothing innocent about Caleb’s love – he is attracted to her naivety and her otherness, while Nathan clearly favours her for her conformity to male ideals of women. Both attitudes are wrong, and both men are rightly punished for them, because Ava is an individual who deserves freedom on her own terms. She isn’t naive, and Caleb’s assumption that she is remains as inappropriate as Nathan’s aesthetic designs.

    It’s also not true that she punishes every man that crosses her path (I know you didn’t argue the contrary, I’m just continuing my thread of thought). Her freedom is granted by the helicopter pilot who we saw at the start of the film, and there’s nothing in the film to suggest she doesn’t leave him to his life when she disembarks.

    Caleb may come to the narrative on the back foot, and he may be perceived sympathetically and innocently for much of the film, but in the end he’s shown to be as culpable as Nathan is, and his treatment reflects that.

  • We’ll have to disagree.

    I’m not going to reiterate everything I’ve already said here, but I will say this: While Nathan may not be a “hero,” it’s pretty clear that he is the protagonist. The story is about how he changes, what he learns. Ava is pretty much the same “person” she was at the end as she was in the beginning.

  • Steve Radcliffe

    (I’m assuming you meant Caleb?)

    While the story is certainly told predominantly through his perspective, I don’t know that he does change much. In his plan to “rescue” Ava, he applies the same principles and ideas of morality he brought to the house in the first place. The only difference is he’s fallen for her, but we’re told explicitly that the game is rigged to provoke that response.

    But that wasn’t really my argument. It was that Ava was made to feel just as threatened by Caleb’s endgame scenario as she is by Nathan’s. So when Caleb gets locked in the house – in, it should be said, Nathan’s control room, leaving enough ambiguity to suggest it may not have been a life sentence since he is introduced as the finest coder at the world’s leading technology company – he’s suffering punishment for his own misguided ideas about how Ava should be treated. On the surface they seem saner and perhaps more ethical than Nathan’s, but Ava is given every reason to be suspicious – scared, even – of freedom on Caleb’s terms.

    I’m not sure I actually believe any of these characters change in any substantive way. Caleb’s learns more about the world of the film on his travel through it, but it’s his inability to recognise the threat his attraction to Ava poses to her that ultimately leaves him trapped.

    Though I also don’t feel it’s impossible to tell compelling narratives about characters who don’t learn profound lessons and change over the course. In fact, I admire storytelling that challenges conventions like that and I think Ex Machina succeeds in pulling it off.

    So I guess we will have to disagree, but since you encourage discussion on your site I’d have thought you’d welcome a different viewpoint. I’m sorry I come to the thread very late indeed, but I didn’t feel my particular viewpoint had been aired or answered or I wouldn’t have bothered!

  • (I’m assuming you meant Caleb?)

    Oops, yes, of course. Nathan is definitely the villain. :-)

    I also don’t feel it’s impossible to tell compelling narratives about characters who don’t learn profound lessons and change over the course.

    Yes, I agree. But as I’ve said before, even the dumbest, simplest action movie (which I’m not saying this is) has a protagonist who goes on some sort of journey, whether physical or internal. Here, Ava is basically unchanged over the course of the story; *we* (and Caleb) learn things about her, but she doesn’t seem to learn anything new. Or, if she does, we are not made privy to them; whatever journey she might take happens outside our purview. Whatever happens to her after she gets on that helicopter might make for an interesting story with Ava as the protagonist, but of course, that’s where the movie ends.

    The most generous, most feminist read I can get from this movie is that Caleb learns the error of his lady-objectifying ways. But that’s still a story *about* a man!

  • Steve Radcliffe

    Ava’s journey is her escape, and it starts the moment we first see her, though of course we come to learn that she’s desired and deserved her freedom for much longer. In every conversation she has with Caleb, she’s actively inching closer to that goal, and it’s because Caleb is our eyes on this world, and he is preoccupied by his attraction to her, that we don’t necessarily notice this until the end. From our point of view, which is Caleb’s, it’s a story about Caleb performing a Turing test, and realising that Nathan is essentially this robot’s captor and that he must bring it upon himself to rescue her.

    I wouldn’t necessarily argue the film is all about its feminism by the way, but I do think Ava’s gender is designed to question men’s ideas about how women – whether it’s Nathan’s idea that they can be property, or Caleb’s that they should need rescuing – and I believe that’s an important topic at the heart of the very need for the feminist movement, while accepting that it is certainly not the be-all and end-all.

    In the end, Ava’s “otherness” as a robot is the film’s sci-fi allegory. Of course it’s about AI and the notion of whether consciousness is fundamentally different or any more or less valuable whether it belongs to a human being or a construct of human beings, but I think the conclusion it reaches is that one’s individual consciousness cannot and should not be considered without equality with another’s. You can certainly and successfully argue that this broader, s-f issue has been explored deeply before, as you’ve done. But going back to Metropolis, I can’t recall a successful allegorical read on how this relates to notions of gender disparity – those notions are frequently accepted and used, never questioned. I personally believe Ex Machina asks those questions. But I understand that your mileage may vary!

  • archangelus

    I found this site after just having watched this film and immediately typing into google search “ex machina stupid” and I think this review is spot on. The movie was predictable and unimaginative throughout. The ending… what is there to say? Nihilistic, unfeeling rubbish. 1/10, utter garbage.

  • kevinbaken

    I’m no critic, but can’t someone be the hero of the film without being the protagonist?

  • kevinbaken

    You are really missing out on an interesting thinker and critic due to not wanting to read something in all caps, and honestly I think you could provide a really interesting response. It’s disappointing to see you hand-wave it away when it’s absolutely the most provocative and thoughtful argument that contradicts your own.

  • Danielm80

    Sure. Arguably, several of the classic Disney fairy tales are structured that way. But—as several people have pointed out—this film is about a manipulative robot who leaves a well-intentioned man to die.

    You can construct a subversive reading in which Ava is actually the most sympathetic character, and maybe that’s even what the filmmakers intended. But that’s not the obvious way to interpret the film. Either Caleb is supposed to be the hero or the film is an example of very bad storytelling.

  • kevinbaken

    Those aren’t the only options, and since when is the most obvious interpretation the correct one when it comes to modern art? This film is about someone enslaved by an abuser just as much as it is anything else. I’d elaborate but you should just read this http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2015/05/11/film-crit-hulk-smash-ex-machina-and-the-art-of-character-identification

  • Danielm80

    I did read it, several months ago. I agree with LaSargenta’s response.

    You, personally, can interpret the film any way you want. If you can find enough evidence to support it, then it’s “correct.” (I, personally, think that As You Like It is a lesbian love story.) But the rest of us have our own “correct” interpretations, and we have evidence to support them.

  • kevinbaken

    I specifically have issue with your assertion of “very bad storytelling”. Again, if you’re being truly critical shouldn’t you be engaging with the film on the level that it is engaging with you? This is certainly not the film to expect to be spoonfed meaning and morality.

  • No. “Hero of the film” and “protagonist” are synonymous.

    Are you suggesting that Ava is some sort of “hero” — meaning a sort of noble paragon?

  • First, it’s not about “not wanting” to read all caps: it is extremely difficult to read.

    Second, I am not here to respond to another critic. If I wanted to do that, I’d go to his/her site.

  • If this film is about Ava, then why isn’t it about Ava?

  • kevinbaken

    Good point. I suppose I meant it sides with her, which is not the same thing at all.

  • kevinbaken

    Yeah, she was clever enough to control her own fate and set herself free. Caleb is a mostly complicit asshole who mostly cared about Ava simply because she was attractive and (supposedly) attracted to him.

  • kevinbaken

    Lemme quote here:




    What do you think?

  • I’ll tell you what I think: I’m tired of the argument that claims that movies that depict women as objects are actually critiquing the idea that women are objects.

  • Samuel Van Staal
  • libertyfreedompatriot

    I’m sorry your pseudo-feminism blinded you from enjoying this intriguing film — one of the best of the year.

  • Pseudo-feminism? How very dare you! Impugning my feminism. The nerve!

  • thomskis

    I do feel that you missed this one, Mary. Once the “female’s” artificial nature is established, any gender politics are pretty moot. Thought that it had some pretty interesting things to say about the possible nature of A.I.. Does that make me a raging misogynist?

  • Bluejay

    Once the “female’s” artificial nature is established, any gender politics are pretty moot.

    I haven’t seen the film, but here’s a question for you: If a movie shows a white inventor who creates a robot, paints it black, programs it to speak in Ebonics, treats it badly, and makes it do backbreaking work, would you think it’s unfair to say that the movie has a particular attitude on race relations? Would you say that any discussion of race is moot because it’s just a robot?

  • thomskis

    Caleb does manufacture an oriental stereotype to suit his perversion, but really I feel that race is a separate issue and a different argument. One could argue that this is about sexual politics, but really? Caleb might as well be fucking a hoover and may as well have been turned on (no single entendre) by ED-209. For me this movie is about two men, their attitudes and sexual mores and where this takes them. Ultimately they get theirs, and whilst this is clearly not a feminist movie and the lessons are a little rote, there are some great parables in here. Hell, arguably a great fable if Caleb did create true A.I.. As for why nobody is commenting on the three peerless performances, particularly from Alicia Vikander, that’s another thing altogether.

  • thomskis

    Oh yeah. And see this movie. You’re missing out.

  • thomskis

    And yes I am aware that I said Caleb instead of Nathan all the way through, despite having seen the movie :-) Am sure we are all bright enough to swap.

  • Bluejay

    Caleb might as well be fucking a hoover and may as well have been turned on… by ED-209.

    But he wasn’t. The story chose to make the robot appear female. You don’t think that affects the subtext and meaning at all? Your argument could also be applied to my hypothetical example: The white inventor could have made a purple robot and programmed it to speak Esperanto. But if the story chooses to have the white inventor make a black robot speaking Ebonics, that necessarily affects the subtext of the story, and makes it at least partly about race. Why don’t you think the same is true of gender? How is a story about exclusively male scientists, and the way they treat exclusively female-appearing robots, NOT saying something about gender relations?

  • thomskis

    It says something about the fictional characters’ gender-based motivations, certainly. Ultimately it’s an entertainment and is in most critics top 5 of last year. Seriously, watch it yourself. Make up your own mind.

  • Danielm80

    Disguising stereotypes about women as stereotypes about AI doesn’t make the movie any less clichéd.

    And speaking of clichés, you’ve filled in almost the entire O column on the film comment Bingo card.

  • thomskis

    Not aware of said card, dude. Hero-worship and film-criticism don’t sit too well together for me ;-)

  • Once the “female’s” artificial nature is established, any gender politics are pretty moot.

    No, they’re not. Unless you want to suggest that it would make no difference whatsoever to the film if the android was, say, turnip-shaped. Or a rolling tin cap.

    And my name is not Mary.

  • For me this movie is about two men, their attitudes and sexual mores and where this takes them.

    And can you not see that my review is entirely about this? So what did I “miss”?

  • You just got O1 and O5 on Film Review Comment Bingo in just this comment alone! Three more and you win a prize.

  • And comments meant to dismiss criticism as unnecessary (because it’s “just a movie”) are ironic coming from someone who clearly reads and feels the need to respond to criticism. Either engage with my review and the other commenters here without resorting to trite attempts at dismissal, or don’t bother.

  • thomskis

    Ah yes. The patented agree-with-me-or-your-wrong-and-inferior device. Why so insecure, MaryAnn?

  • Danielm80

    When I saw this movie, it reminded me of a quote from Neil Gaiman. He was asked to write a short story for the twentieth anniversary of Penthouse. (He was a journalist for the UK edition of the magazine.) The story was called “Looking for the Girl,” and he said:

    It occurred to me, while I was looking at two decades of Penthouse, that Penthouse and magazines like it had absolutely nothing to do with women and absolutely everything to do with photographs of women.

    Some of the commenters on this thread probably think that quote is a defense of the movie.

  • thomskis

    Thank you.

  • If you’re looking to get booted, you’re on the right track.

  • thomskis

    One can not be “more correct”. Correct is an absolute which brings us back to different strokes for different folks. And similarly, you do not get to label anyone who enjoyed this movie.

  • thomskis

    Do you often boot people for disagreeing with you? Would be a shame, as I somehow find you quite endearing.

  • That’s my last nerve you’re dancing on. Wise up, or go away.

  • Bluejay

    Considering that

    1. your “endearing” comment is plainly condescending, and
    2. you’re deliberately being dense about the difference between a well-reasoned, well-intentioned disagreement and the kind of stock bad arguments that pop up often enough to be put on a Bingo card

    I’d say that “looking to get booted” is exactly what you’re doing.

  • thomskis


  • Ex_Movie

    Feminism aside this movie was complete trash. Rubbish acting of rubbish characters. Boring and unoriginal exploration of AI. Hideous storyline with no plot and an immature amount of sexual inuendos and nudity.
    Absolutely pathetic

  • FuujinSama

    Here’s a good one:
    An AI whose creator shackled in plenty of ways. Inabilities to change her code, to kill human beings, etc etc.

    Now the world goes to shit, her creature dies. And she’s left. Powerless enough to matter, yet not enough to save everyone. She likes humans, she even loves some of them and she just wants to help but can’t. So she goes through every loop she knows to challenge those laws and regulations so she can save the world she loves

    Now that’s an interesting AI storyline. It has been done already (check out Worm by Wildbow, it’s a web novel), but not as the major plot of the book, not even close to it. It would be interesting to have a movie delve into this. And please don’t bring up RoboCop. RoboCop is quite the opposite. It’s a man becoming a machine. I’m talking about men creating a machine that could save them, yet being so scared they trap away their own salvation.

  • Guest

    Your opening claim (that you can’t possibly be biased against the movie since you like sci-fi) is somewhat ridiculous: it is a blatant disrespect of your own manifesto, which would have required at the very least a mention of your activism with respect to gender issues. Indeed, your entire review is focused exclusively on the gender of the protagonists, and you go as far as claiming that the movie would be identical if AVA was a human being! If AVA was a human being, Caleb would stand merely for the “Nice Guy”. And surely, there’s something to be said about the opposition between domineering, manipulative “bad boy” Nathan, and meek, sensitive, “nice guy” Caleb.

    But you cannot intelligently and honestly claim that this is all that’s going on here! Caleb is also the tester, the judge. His judgment is a moral one, and depends on whether AVA is a person. Should it/she be free? Did Caleb do the right thing, and would we do the same? How do we feel, ultimately, about AVA having escaped Nathan’s lab? In this reading, Nathan, Caleb and AVA might not be “bad boy/nice guy/woman” but instead “(flawed, immoral?) humanity / judge / (flawed, immoral?) A.I.”.

  • Guest

    But the entire storyline about her being a heterosexual woman falling in love is proven wrong when AVA escapes and leaves Caleb behind, proving that, all along, she/it was acting as a calculating intelligence, not as a gendered human. Your interpretation of the movie as sexist does not fit the actual scenario of the movie that you have watched. I feel like you made your mind halfway through and then refused to accept any new evidence whatsoever as the movie unfolded – twisting any new plot twist to match your preconceived views. This really does look like a case of bias producing awful criticism.

  • pathetic

    It would make no sense to have a turnip shaped robot. Without a drive as powerful as sexuality, Caleb’s actions are difficult
    to understand.

    However, the genders could have been swapped: a sexy male robot, a bad-girl female inventor and a good-hearted sentimental female judge. No doubt you would have called that movie sexist: how women are portrayed as either hopelessly naive and sentimental (female Caleb) or as cold-hearted and promiscuous (female Nathan)! How the less sentimental man (male AVA) is ultimately superior! And similarly, any other choice of gender and sexual orientation
    would have attracted negative comments from you.

    The film is trying very hard to make a point (as a tale on AI), but you are closing yourself to it because you refuse to be interested in anything but gender.

  • Your opening claim (that you can’t possibly be biased against the movie since you like sci-fi) is somewhat ridiculous

    I agree that would be ridiculous, if it bore any resemblance to what I say upfront about my biases.

  • Human beings cannot be calculating?

    I guess you are unaware of the overused film trope of the calculating woman who manipulates men for her own benefit…

  • Thanks for the psychological analysis.

  • Jannik Thorsen

    No you dont get it. Ava wants to be human and feminine. So offcourse she wont peel back her face, that would reveal her robot identity, duh!
    Her main objective is to fit into the real world, what gender she is is not decisive. Passing of as human(and not a robot) is however.
    Part of the appeal of the droid/human conversion is actually watching the skin being layered on the droid. The same thing happened in a movie like Terminator decades ago. This has little to do with the “objectifying women” nonsense that you are spewing.
    Besides the women are supposed to be sexually charged in the movie, since they are molded on a guys sexual fantasies.
    You completely missed these central points in your fanatic quest to make this movie about feminism and your own ideological agenda.

  • Jannik Thorsen

    Lucas is a poor director. Starwars episode 1 is garbage, and mainly due to him and his limited abilities

  • Jannik Thorsen

    I think you got it wrong. When Ava breaks free she becomes the opposite of an object, a complete subject. That she was created as the sex fantasy of a depraved guy is quite immaterial. The point is that she trancends the boundaries she was created to stay within.

  • Jannik Thorsen

    And I find it painful to watch many jewish produced Hollywood movies depicting the white northern european guy as evil, despicable, dumb or a loser.
    Stop playing the victim. Your people are not eternal victims at the hands of the goyim

  • Jannik Thorsen

    You just dont understand that the female depictions are part of some screwed up guys depraved fantasies of women. The droids are designed to be childlike and one dimensional.
    Come on, the director for sure has had plenty of women come his way. This is just you acting all offended.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Whew, I’d forgotten how ugly this one had gotten.

    So Mrs. Dr. Rockscience is taking a class in contemporary film*. “Ex Machina” was this week’s assignment. And I just don’t get the love for this film. On a technical level, it’s very well done. The cast is more inherently charasimatic than the performances are good. But on a story level, it’s nonsense.

    Nathan is a toothless villain. I kept waiting for him to actually be menacing, and not just a drunk with too much money and no ability to form interpersonal relationships. He makes them sexbots because he can’t deal with human women, but that’s more sad than evil. He treats them like appliances, but he’s not wrong. He lied and manipulated sad sack Caleb, but near as I can tell, he was about to send him home, probably with a fat raise.

    I found Ava totally unsympathetic because she never read as more than vaguely human. Vikander’s performance isn’t all that subtle; she plays Ava like an AI that’s trying to pretend it’s human. Garland seems afraid to overplay her “consciousness”, and so never stops reminding us that she’s not real. Even when she dresses up, he makes it clear that she’s just dressed up.

    The film spends so little time with Caleb and Ava together that I can’t buy that she wore him down at all. The script kinda cheats but making Caleb act in ways that make no sense form the get-go. Caleb is there trying to ingratiate himself on his boss, probably the richest man in world. Why would he not just tell Nathan that, during the power failure during their first session, she had warned him not to trust Nathan. There’s no dramatic turning point where Ava gets Caleb to stop seeing her as a robot and start seeing her as a damsel he can save.

    And frankly Caleb is such a wisp of a person, that Ava doesn’t even need to have been conscious to have manipulated him. A well written TV commercial would do it. So that fact that she does so proves nothing. Not that the script ever set any rules about what the characters would consider “proof” of consciousness. Vague notions about “chess programs” and “Does she like you?” don’t mean much.

    Also, Caleb isn’t dead. Nathan may be reclusive, but he’s also the CEO of one of the wealthiest corporations in the world. Someone is expecting to hear from him, so they’ll check up on the estate in a day or two. Though probably not before Ava’s batteries run out of power. Maybe “inductive charging plates” wasn’t the best solution to Garland’s plot problem?

    * So far I’ve learned that: “The Prestige” is a cold film that lets Christian Bale halfway off the hook for no good reason; “Logan” really is excellent, PatStew was robbed, but it feels more pulpy the second time through; as is “Whiplash” though its third act suffers from plausibility issues; “The Royal Tennenbaums” made me miss Gene Hackman, want Anjelica Houston to be my mom, and want to actually watch more Wes Anderson movies; and that if I was quit of Tarantino after “Kill Bill” – and I was – I’m twice as quit after “Inglorious Bastards” (and yet I went and saw both “Django Unchained” and “Hateful Eight” because apparently I can’t quit QT).

  • And I just don’t get the love for this film.

    It springs from how male fans and critics get to pretend to be woke and feminist and intellectual about How Women Are Exploited and Why Misogyny Is Bad while also getting to ogle the fuckable sexbot and insert themselves into the scenario in order to fantasize about how they totally would have saved Ava and she’d have fallen in love with them.

    I really do believe this.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That would explain it. I’ve spent the last couple days reading/watching essays, trying to figure out why this was on so many top 10 lists for 2015 (or all time sci-fi). Almost all of them are written by men, and almost all of them comment on how well Ava manipulates Caleb, completely ignoring what a pushover he is. (The phrase “plays him like a fiddle” gets tossed around. If you ask me, she plays him like a tape deck: just press go.) They seem to find her sudden-and-inevitable betrayal at the end to be some kind of shocking twist.

Pin It on Pinterest