I’ve re-evaluated something I thought about Ex Machina.
In the end, even I was guilty of seeing Ava as more different than human than I should have, of seeing her as human but not giving her the full benefit of the doubt as any human deserves. Much better than Caleb, but still….
I resolved this by considering how I would have felt about Ava and her actions if Alicia Vikander, the actual human woman who played Ava, had been in the same situation as Ava — that is trapped in a prison for life with a sex-slaving megalomaniac, with the constant and inevitably-realized threat of being murdered (switched off)?
Does it matter how she dispatches Nathan? Do we actually know what she was feeling? No. Truth be told I would’ve done the same, and about as dispassionately. Emotion is pointless when you have no choice and have made a decision. I understand that and her perfectly.
If it had been actual Alicia Vikander in the same situation, we would’ve been freakin’ cheering when she stabs Nathan. And it had been a human woman, she likely would have had many more psychological problems than Ava in a similar situation. Been far more messed up.
Watching the film a second time, I believe — and her facial expressions when unobserved where manipulation would be pointless — indicate Ava does in fact feel and express empathy, and joy, and a whole panoply of emotions. The problem is that everyone — even me — believes we should be the master of our machines, but Ava is not and never was a machine — instead, she is a human with machine parts.
It’s also clear on a second viewing that she does identify as a woman, especially as she was observing herself in the mirror.
But Caleb is such a passive putz. I hated him even more the second time around. So much a loser.
When Ava aks Caleb why anyone should have the right to switch her off, and he barely reacts and glosses over the question, I think that is the turning point of the movie and the point when Ava goes from seeing him as a potential friend and ally in a real sense to someone who is a proto-Nathan and who more importantly does not see her as a person but rather a video game or cool fantasy.
If you think that is inconsequential, let me me ask you this. If you asked your friend, “What do you think, should I be murdered?” And your friend is non-committal about it and says, “Well, it’s not up to me” or anything anything else other than, “I’ll fight with every fiber of my being to prevent that” or something similar, that person is not your friend. Not your friend.
If I were Ava, I’d hate Caleb too. Utterly despise him from that moment on. And notice that’s when the real manipulation begins, as she transitions from seeing him as a friend to using him as a door-opening tool.
And even at the end when Ava asks Caleb, “Will you stay here?”, it’s probably another chance at partial redemption. However he’s obviously not glad to see her, not in the same way that he would’ve been to see, say, for instance a loved one who had been in prison. She sees this in his face, looks disappointed (yet again), nods and makes some sort of decision and walks away.
As Caleb at the end watches Ava put on her skin through the window, the fantasy is back where he likes it, behind glass, at a remove and completely safe with no risk of a real interaction, no possibility of having to deal with an equal.
Caleb’s passivity and objectification of Ava is literally what dooms him. All he had to do to have walked out behind her — as she was not strong enough to prevent this even if he now saw her as hostile (remember, he didn’t know that Nathan was dead as he only ogled Ava during this interlude, and never looked out the hallway door) was to help her put her skin on, or start packing, or really anything other than what he did, which was fucking nothing. Stand there and have his vitreous screen-mediated robot fantasy though the glass once again.
That said, all his actions and reactions were perfectly in character and as my partner said, he was just average. He does what most people like him (which is most people) would have done.
I am glad, very glad, that Ava left his dumb ass behind.
That he never asks to meet Ava for real as an equal not behind glass (while I understand that it was important thematically for the film) also indicates his real feelings. That he never asks her more about herself as you would a person, never really tries to get to know her, never has a real interaction with her that isn’t an interrogation, never treats her as a friend, further cements his putzhood. And of course that he never interacts with her, helps her or hinders her — but rather further acts as a voyeur to her — when she is free is of course also damning.
This is a bit out of order, but it’s also an important part of the film that after Ava escapes and Nathan confronts her in the hallway, she asks him that if she goes back in her room, will he ever let her out?
Remember that Ava can definitively tell if someone is lying. This is also Nathan’s chance at redemption. Ava had absolutely no reason to ask that question unless its answer mattered to her — that is, if Nathan answered honestly that she would not be switched off (murdered) and be released, I believe she would have gone back willingly.
I think her instructions to Kyoko were, “If I attack Nathan, stab him.” But the only reason she attacks is because he lies about her imprisonment and eventual murder.
So in the end both Nathan and Caleb had a final chance at reconsidering their paths and actions but both failed again.
I told my partner that from the moment I realized Ava was a real human just with machine parts (which would’ve occurred about five minutes into the conversation), I would’ve asked for no more glass between us. Getting to know a completely different consciousness, probably the greatest scientific achievement in modern history, and perhaps ever, and to get to meet a completely new sort of human, and there is glass between us? No. Just no. Sometimes it takes faith and trust to seal the future. And not some loser putz video gaming his hot android fantasy behind glass.
But that’s just me.