As the title says, this review will contain major spoilers. If you don’t want the whole movie ruined for you, please stop reading now, go watch it, and then come back to this post! If you want to know a little about the movie before you watch it, you can check out my spoiler-free review. With that being said, if you’re still here then let’s get to the review.
—-Major Spoilers Inbound—–
The movie starts out with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer, winning a contest to visit the CEO of his company at his research facility. Nathan (Oscar Issac) is the CEO of Bluebook, which is the most popular search engine in the world. He’s very eccentric and doesn’t really act like a typical CEO or scientist. I really liked how odd this character was. It was difficult to get a good read on him which really added to the mystery. He has chosen Caleb to conduct a Turing test on an artificial intelligence that he has been working on. A Turing test is a test to determine a machine’s ability to display intelligence that is equal to or indistinguishable from that of a human. Caleb is quite surprised by this but excited to be a part of this experiment. He has to sign a non-disclosure agreement and is cut off from all contact while at the mountain research facility. Caleb has free access to anything that his key card grants him access to for the whole week. By the end of the movie, I had forgotten that this was all taking place within a week. The story was so engrossing and a lot of stuff happened that it seemed like it took place over a longer period of time. This is the point where we meet Ava, an artificial intelligence that’s housed inside a humanoid, female robot. During a traditional Turing test, the evaluator would not know that he is conversing with a machine. Nathan says that this isn’t a traditional test and that Caleb must try to relate to Ava on a human level despite knowing that she is a machine.
Ava’s introduction is quite striking. She is clearly a machine, but she has the hands and face of a human. Alicia Vikander gives a very convincing performance in this movie. She is very human, but also has the coldness about her that one would expect from a robot. I found the way in which her AI was developed to be incredibly fascinating. Nathan used his search engine, Bluebook, as its base. The billions of searches by its users were used as indicators of human thought. Think about that for a second. People all around the world search for an insane amount of things on a daily basis, we can search for whatever we’re thinking about. It’s a really clever way to have a machine learn how a human thinks. To give Ava realistic facial expressions and body language, Nathan hacked the cameras of billions of cell phones without the users knowing and recorded their expressions and movements. This part was just plain creepy. Caleb gets past the initial shock and awkwardness with Ava and conducts a session with her each day, monitored by Nathan. We learn that the facility experiences random power outages (soon learning that Ava is the cause of these). During the outages, Nathan can’t see or hear what Caleb and Ava are talking about. Ava says that she is being held prisoner and that she needs help escaping. Not sure how to react, he just keeps this information to himself and they use the power outages to continue to speak freely. Nathan asks what happens during the outages, but Caleb dodges the question.
There is one other character to mention. During dinner one night, we see that Nathan has a maid named Kyoko. He says she doesn’t speak English and it’s implied that he uses her for sex. During the movie, I was sure that she really could understand what was going on and I suspected that she was a robot (the only thing I actually figured out before it was revealed). There are some really odd tonal switches in this movie. While it’s mainly a serious dramatic thriller, there are a couple hilarious moments. One of them is a conversation that Caleb and Nathan have about whether Caleb wants to have sex with Ava. The way the conversation goes is kind of weird but we do learn that Ava is capable of having sex and feeling pleasure. The other really out-of-place moment is a dance scene with Nathan and Kyoko. After a night of drinking, Caleb helps Nathan back to his room. Caleb questions him about why he tore up a drawing that Ava made earlier (he had witnessed this on the camera feed that he has in his bedroom). Instead of addressing the issue, Nathan says that he’s going to tear up the dance floor and he and Kyoko start doing a hilarious dance number, complete with music and lights. I can honestly say I never saw that coming.
Through his conversations with Ava, Caleb starts to think Nathan is abusing her and he says that he’ll help her escape. One night while Nathan is passed out drunk, Caleb steals his key card uses it to gain access to his computer. He watches some very disturbing security camera footage that shows several very human looking female robots (full skin, unlike Ava) being used by Nathan. It appears that these are prototypes for Ava and that Nathan is using them as sex objects. We see one scream about wanting to be let out and she cracks the observation room glass. Another is seen clawing at the wall to escape so fiercely that she claws her hands down to nothing (quite literally). During this time, he also writes some kind of program on the computer. During the next power outage, Caleb tells Ava his plan to get her out. He tells her to cause a power outage at a specific time and he will get Nathan drunk again to steal his key card. Then he’ll re-program the facility to open all the doors instead of locking down during the blackout. Ava agrees and Caleb starts his plan the next morning. It’s the last day of the experiment and Nathan refuses to drink (pretty unusual for him). He reveals that he knows all about the plan because he placed a battery operated camera in the observation room to find out what goes on during the power outages. He then tells Caleb that the real experiment was seeing if Ava could convince him to help her escape through any means necessary, including seducing him. Caleb refuses to believe this and then the power outage happens on schedule. It turns out that the program he wrote earlier was him rewriting the system to open instead of go on lockdown, showing that his plan was already in motion. Nathan punches Caleb, knocking him out and he goes to stop Ava. Ava leaves her confinement and investigates her new surroundings. She meets up with Kyoko and whispers something to her and we see that she brought a knife. Nathan confronts the two robots and Ava attacks him. He breaks off her hand but she’s still to strong for him. Kyoko walks up behind him and stabs him, causing Nathan to destroy her (by knocking off her jaw which was pretty weird). Ava then stabs him in the chest. She seems to show no emotion or remorse for killing her creator and leaves him to die. Caleb wakes up and Ava tells him to stay there and she locks him in. She goes to the bedroom where all the other robots are and uses them to replace her arm and takes their skin so that she has the appearance of a real woman. She then puts on a dress and leaves the facility to meet the helicopter that was meant to take Caleb home. She leaves and the last thing we see is Ava standing at a busy intersection, something that she always wanted to do.
I was completely caught off-guard by the ending. The movie did such a good job of building up one thing but then turning everything around at the end. I had no idea that Ava was going to turn out evil and that Nathan was technically the good guy by keeping her detained. She had Caleb completely fooled and now she’s loose and mingling unnoticed with society. This is really freaky when you think about it because she’s essentially a ghost. She’s not human and she has no identity or ties to society. She can basically do whatever she wants. I love how open-ended this is. This movie already had me thinking about a lot of stuff but now I wonder what kind of impact she’ll have on the world. She clearly has no problem killing, so who knows what kind of chaos she could cause. Overall, Ex Machina has a really intriguing plot and a great twist ending. The small cast gave amazing and convincing performances that really helped drive the mystery. I highly recommend this movie, even though if you’re reading this I assume you’ve already seen it. It’s a great, modern techno thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I hope you enjoyed my in-depth review and I hope you enjoyed this film as much as I did. That’s all I’ve got for now, see ya next time!