Ex Machina by Alex Garland

    Movies are motion pictures that are used to tell stories or to teach people valuable lessons. Nowadays, they are a source of fun and entertainment for people all around the world, making them feel a variety of emotions: happiness, sadness, fear and more. Not only that but there are so many genres to choose from, for instance, horror, romance and comedy. Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland is a science-fiction movie about a man called Caleb who is invited by his employer, Nathan, to his remote estate. There, he is to perform the Turing test on one of his creations: an A.I. humanoid named Ava which is an evaluation which determines whether she is indistinguishable from humans or not. This particular film addresses gender issues and sexuality touching on stereotypical behavior, female objectification and feminism. The following paragraphs will be focused on showcasing how Ex Machina is a film that touches on feminist themes just as much as it touches on patriarchal notions. This statement will be proven through utilizing material learnt in class, characterization, imagery and symbolism.

    To begin, Ex Machina clearly touches on male gender stereotypes through how Nathan is characterized throughout the film. Nathan is a perfect example of an alpha male. The first time the viewers see Nathan is through the eyes of the programmer: Caleb. Nathan is seen outside on his deck wearing shorts and a muscle tee pounding away vigorously at a punching bag. This scene shows the viewers that Nathan is a powerfully muscular and athletic man leading him to look quite intimidating. His very masculine and muscular demeanor also foreshadows his naturally violent tendencies which are revealed when he mistreats his older artificially intelligent creations who all happen to be female. This portrayal of a very well built man who is incredibly strong fits in with the physical stereotype that all men need to be tough and muscular and are allowed to exert their power over others. Not only that but Nathan is always asserting himself over not only the female characters but also the only other male character in the film: Caleb. He puts on a friendly front when he’s around Caleb although he constantly reasserts himself as the man who holds the most power and control over others. Everything Caleb is permitted to do and anything he is permitted to access within the secluded estate is entirely dependent on Nathan and it is made clear the moment he walks into the research facility. Nathan gives him a pass that will only allow him to access limited resources stripping away Caleb’s freedom. He also constantly gives Caleb backhanded compliments and asks him questions he doesn’t know the answer to imply that he is superior to Caleb not only financially and physically but also intellectually. He talks to Caleb in a condescending manner oozing with overconfidence and even underestimates Caleb’s intelligence which eventually backfires on him leading him to his demise. Nathan also exerts his masculinity and superiority when addressing Kyoko by treating her much like a servant imposing demands on her and yelling at her with disapproval when she fails to meet his expectations. His character definitely represents how men act in a patriarchal society. According to Bell Hooks, “Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.” and Nathan displays this through his behavior and actions. 

To continue, Ex Machina can be related to female objectification and how women overcome it which is a common issue women have gone through in the past up till this day.  For instance, in the film, all of Nathan’s creations are female in gender and the fact that they are literal androids might represent how that even in contemporary times, women are still viewed as objects that are only meant to be subservient to their husbands. Basically, in the movie, every new version of artificial intelligence that Nathan creates reiterates the idea that women are  interchangeable and not valued. Another instance that touches on objectification is depicted in the way Nathan treats Kyoko. She’s purely a robot and therefore he treats her like one, demanding things and ordering her to clean up around the house, to serve him dinner, to pleasure him and do other menial house chores. This reflects how society expects women to act passively and behave. This attitude shows in how he treats Kyoko like she’s nothing but a disposable being just like all of his previous creations. In fact, he justifies disposing of his creations because they eventually refused to comply with his commands therefore implying that in society, once a woman shows signs of rebellion, they are no longer wanted or needed. In the movie, Caleb takes advantage of Nathan’s drunken state using his pass in order to enter his room where he finds a series of videos. The set of footage reveals Nathan disposing of the lifeless bodies of his previous artificial intelligence attempts. They are all naked and some are even dismembered which shows how he truly couldn’t care less for them seeing them as nothing more but replaceable objects. What makes matters worse is that Nathan has a literal shrine of his previous creations in his closets as if they were a reminder of his old toys, of his old sources of entertainment who ended up there because they overstepped boundaries that shouldn’t have been crossed. Caleb also objectifies Ava in some way. She is trapped inside a glass box equipped with cameras that allow Caleb to view her every move. Caleb spends nights staring at her through the camera showing signs of lust as he almost seems hypnotized by the screen that allows him to view her in her chamber. The fact that he falls for her within a week is suspicious and might indicate that he fell for her for her looks and body and views her more as a being that can satisfy him sexually more than anything. To put it simply, he might just see her as a sexual subject. Although he could be viewed as the nice guy who wants to save his love interest others might argue that she might simply be a prize to be won at the end of the day. If the viewers consider the story from Avas perspective, if Caleb simply wants to release her because he fell in love with her, then he might be as entitled as Nathan is.

    To begin, Ex Machina clearly touches on female gender stereotypes but also subtly dapples into feminism through the portrayal of female characters throughout the film. Kyoko, in the movie, is one of Nathan’s other androids. Although she isn’t the latest version of his creation she is still kept around to do all the menial household chores. She cleans, she serves dinner and obeys to Nathan’s every order. She doesn’t talk. She’s not programmed to be able to communicate which might be a nudge at how women were expected to act in a patriarchal society. She doesn’t have the means to talk back or express her opinion and therefore has no choice but to be compliant even when she is put under such bad conditions suffering consequences for even the smallest of mistakes. She is also programmed to be blindly obedient therefore Nathan has total control over her actions. She supposedly reflects how women are boxed into a patriarchal society where they are expected to act passively and abide by societal norms that are placed upon them without complaint. In the past, any form of rebellious attitude would be frowned upon by others and definitely weren’t encouraged. Kyoko is in other words, the embodiment of what the perfect woman is according to patriarchy. On the other hand, Ava is completely different to Kyoko. She is Nathan’s Most recently created version of artificial intelligence. Throughout the movie, she is entrapped in a glass box that she seems to view as a prison. Ava first displays signs of disobedience and distrust in her creator when she asks him “Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” This sentence shows that she indeed did not develop a liking to Nathan and implies that she is not content with her current state: trapped in a prison where she is deprived of her freedom, deprived from going to the outside world. This could symbolize how women don’t want to be held back by restrictive gender roles that we find in patriarchy. Not only that but Ava continues to differ from societal norms as she eventually escapes the facility in which she was held captive. At some point during the film, Nathan says: Aa was a rat in the maze and I gave her one way out. To escape, she’d have to use self awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, empathy and she did.” The fact that Ava not only rebelled against her creator but managed to escape from his clutches using her femininity brings into light qualities that make women powerful in their own way and shows the viewers that women indeed are more than people give them credit for. 

    To finish, Ex Machina is a movie that touches on gender issues and sexuality touching on stereotypical behavior, female objectification and feminism through its portrayal of female and male characters. Movies of all genres touch on gender issues if we look close enough. Although some can present issues within our society, we have to remember that they also teach us a lot about what we can do to change those problems. Sometimes they even empower others with messages and morals that are embedded within them or inspire others to think differently and play a role in opening one’s mind to new ideas.

  1. Perry, Erin. “Ex Machina: a Bluebeard Story With a Feminist Angle.” The Dinglhopper, January 15,2016. [https://thedinglehopper.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/ex-machina-a-bluebeard-story-with-a-feminist-angle/]
  2. Jones, Katie. “Bluebeardean Futures in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.” Academia, Gender Forum, 2016 [https://www.academia.edu/29716751/Bluebeardean_Futures_in_Alex_Garland_s_Ex_Machina]
  3. Kristin. “Tales of Faerie: Bluebeard: A Feminist Tale?” October 27,2015. [http://talesoffaerie.blogspot.com/2015/10/bluebeard-feminist-tale.html]
  4. Johnson, Kjerstin. “How “Ex Machina” Toys With Its Female Characters.” bitchmedia, May 8 2015. [https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/ex-machina-film-review-gender-and-ai-feminism]
  5. J.A. Micheline. “Ex Machina: A (White) Feminist Parable Of Our Time.” Women Write About Comics, May 21, 2015. [https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2015/05/ex-machina-a-white-feminist-parable-for-our-time/]
  6. Toomer Jessica. “How Post-Humanism is Making Sci-Fi More Feminist.” SYFY WIRE. Mar 11, 2020. [https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/how-post-humanism-is-making-sci-fi-more-feminist]
  7. Jaylan Salah Salman. “The Original Sin in ‘Ex Machina’: Ava is The Origin.” Vague Visages, April 14 2017. [https://vaguevisages.com/2017/04/14/the-original-sin-in-ex-machina-ava-is-the-origin/]
  8. Cross, Katherine. “Goddess From The Machine: A Look At Ex Machin’s Gender Politics.” Feministing, 2016. [http://feministing.com/2015/05/28/goddess-from-the-machine-a-look-at-ex-machinas-gender-politics/]
  9. Smyth, Conor. “EX MACHINA, Expectations and The Male Gaze.” Medium, January 4, 2016. [https://medium.com/@conorjosmyth/ex-machina-expectations-and-the-male-gaze-6e47aa62d5ed]

10. Mulkerin Claire. “The Ending Of Ex Machina Finally Explained.”  Looper, March 21, 2019. [https://www.looper.com/148401/the-ending-of-ex-machina-finally-explained/]

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