Ex Machina Analyzed: Explaining the Movie and its Ending

Ex Machina Analyzed: Explaining the Movie and its Ending

When Ex Machina came out in 2014, it became a science fiction hit. The movie, starring Alicia Vikander as Ava, artificial intelligence in a robotic body, who is subjected to the Turing test by her programmer’s CEO.

The movie raised a lot of interesting questions about artificial intelligence, robots, the future and became an instant hit, praised by fans and critics alike.

Alex Garland both directed and wrote the movie as an original story, creating a movie that, although not completely unique, gave us more than enough material to enjoy a great standalone story with more than enough beautiful and puzzling moments. Ex Machina is a mystery in its own right and there are a lot of very important elements that demanded an analysis.

What Is Ex Machina All About?

Caleb Smith is a young programmer who wins the chance to spend a week in the mountain home of Nathan Bateman, the CEO of the company he works for, BlueBook.

Nathan immediately reveals to him that his house is nothing more than a large research laboratory, where he himself designed and built a humanoid machine with artificial intelligence named Ava (or AVA, you can use both forms of spelling).

In addition to AVA and Nathan, Kyoko, a beautiful and silent robotic maid, which the inventor can dispose of at will also live in that house with them. The inventor appears to be a self-confident person with a passion for physical exercise and health, but also a strong passion for alcohol.

Caleb was chosen, through an internal competition within the company, to collaborate in the execution of the famous Turing test, to find out if the humanoid has true intelligence and self-awareness. The young programmer starts the test right away, meeting the female-looking robot and starting to talk to her, surprising himself at how intelligent, sensitive, and human-like she was.

Caleb, interestingly enough, begins to fall in love with Ava, who seems to reciprocate and discovers that the robot is able to switch off the electricity from the laboratory to prevent Nathan from hearing them talk. During the blackouts, the doors of the house laboratory close automatically to avoid possible intrusion or escape attempts.

Ava reveals that she would like to escape and see the world and that with Caleb’s help she could do it. As the days go by, Caleb begins to be more and more intolerant to Nathan, who appears to him as a haughty narcissist who treats both Ava and Kyoko very badly.

When the inventor reveals to him the intention to erase all of Ava’s memories to take her to a next level of experimentation, Caleb is not there and takes advantage of a moment of drunkenness from Nathan to enter her studio and observe her experiments.

In this way, Caleb discovers that Nathan has worked with dozens of other robots in the past and that Kyoko herself is one of them, which he did not know in the beginning. Terrified by the idea that he could be an automaton himself, Caleb injures himself to ascertain his humanity: the sight of his blood refreshes him and calms him down.

The next day, Ava and Caleb decide to get Nathan drunk again so that they can escape the house. The plan is shattered, however: Nathan actually overheard the conversations the two believed to be secret and saw the scene where Caleb injured himself, refuses to drink, and reveals to Caleb that, in his opinion, Ava was just pretending to be interested in him to help her escape.

This would therefore demonstrate Ava’s real human intelligence. At this point, Caleb reveals that, suspecting that he was listening to these conversations, the day before, while Nathan was unconscious due to alcohol, he had already disabled the security systems of the place in case of blackout: Ava in fact manages to turn off the power and get out of his room.

A fight ensues in which Kyoko also intervenes. Although Nathan overwhelmed Caleb physically, the two robots manage to attack him and get the better of him.

Before dying, the man manages to permanently destroy Kyoko and damage Ava, but she repairs herself with various mechanical parts and covers her entire body with synthetic leather in order to look like a real woman in everyone’s eyes.

Once this is done, the robot leaves the house for good without releasing Caleb from the room in which he is imprisoned, deliberately ignoring the man’s screams: Caleb, therefore, understands that Nathan was right and that he is now destined to die of starvation. In the following hours, Ava is finally free to live a normal life among people, the city and nature.

Analyzing Ex Machina

Ex Machina is not a film filled with a lot of mysteries, but it is a film that demands answers. And while it answers most of its questions, Ex Machina is still a complex and layered work that certainly demands some analysis. While coming up with how to approach this, we decided to present the main issues analyzed in the movie, since that will help you follow the plot easier.

Artificial intelligence is, absolutely, the most important topic of this movie. It was presented in a very intriguing manner, mostly through AVA, but also via Kyoko. Artificially intelligent robots are preprogrammed to follow their creators, but the Turing test, which plays a vital role in this movie, is used to show us how far robots can evolve.

The issue of whether robots, as the embodiments of artificial intelligence, can or cannot rise above their programming through machine learning is the quintessential question analyzed in this movie. We are, of course, not going to spoil this for you, but that is certainly what you have to focus on.

We’ve seen this topic analyzed in Westworld, both the movie and the television series, in I, Robot, as well as other science-fiction works, so this is not something new, but it was – in a lot of ways – original.

Another important aspect is the relationship between humans and robots, i.e., whether robots can learn to mimic humanity through interaction with humans. This is where Caleb and Nathan often clash, as well as when the topic of sentience is confirmed.

Sure, AVA and Kyoko are “alive” in the literal sense of the world, they do exist as sentient beings, but can they actually mimic humans? Can they have human emotions, manipulation skills, egos, and even urges, like AVA’s urge to survive?

Also, how does morale come into all of this? Sure, Caleb and Nathan can be judged easily as they are humans, but what about the robots? Can we judge them as well? This is a question that is also very important for Ex Machina, especially in the context of the film’s ending (see below).

Another aspect you certainly have to pay attention to is the sentience of the robots, i.e., their free will. This is also another topic heavily analyzed in the above-named works such as Westworld, but Ex Machina takes it to some different places, into a sphere that hasn’t been in the focus in other works.

And with this, we can close out our thematical analysis of Ex Machina. The movie certainly raises interesting questions and the ones we have talked about here are, we think the essence of the movie. In the next section, we are going to be dealing with the issues of the film’s ending.

Ex Machina Ending Explained

Now, the ending of Ex Machina isn’t that complex and requires more of a narrative interpretation than a complete analysis. The movie resolves rather straightforwardly and there aren’t any loose ends, since everything was explained during the events of days six and seven. So, what happened?

It all begins on day six. Saddened by not being able to see Caleb the previous afternoon, AVA causes a blackout; Caleb tells her that Nathan destroyed the consciousness of the previous prototypes.

He also tells her that that same night he will help her escape, causing Nathan to fall asleep by drinking too much and that somehow, when the system is overloaded, they can escape making that the doors do not close when the blackout occurs. So they schedule a blackout.

Caleb meets Nathan in the kitchen and invites him out for a celebratory drink, considering it is the last day of his stay at his facility. Nathan refuses to drink, indicating that he wishes to detox. Caleb says that AVA passed the test performed, but Nathan assures him that AVA can fake feelings to achieve some goal, such as being able to escape from the building.

Nathan then tells him that he saw the recording of Caleb cutting himself on the arm, and invites him to his computer to show him something.

In front of the computer, Nathan shows him the video with the sound of the moment in which he broke the AVA drawing and tells him that at that very moment he installed a battery-powered camera in the room, and shows him the recording of the conversation of the AVA escape plan.

Nathan tells him that AVA did not allow him the option of escape, so the only option to achieve it was to use his artificial intelligence to manipulate Caleb and be able to flee or generate his own function. As they chat, the scheduled blackout occurs.

Nathan continues to chat with Caleb about his plan to reprogram the security system, and this is when Caleb reveals that the day before, while he was drunk, he changed the programming of the security doors such that during a blackout, instead of locking the doors, they will unlock.

This happened because he hacked into Nathan’s computer that night. Power is restored and Nathan discovers that AVA is no longer inside his compound, but is interacting with Kyoko in a corridor leading to the exit. Nathan hits Caleb and knocks him unconscious; he arms himself with a dumbbell bar and goes to where AVA is still talking to Kyoko.

He scolds her to go back to her room, but she attacks him; Nathan defends himself and hits her with her bar, detaching her arm; he tries to drag her back, to return her to her enclosure. Kyoko sticks a knife in Nathan’s back, who turns from her and hits her, shattering her jaw so she dies because that is where the artificial heart of the robot is.

AVA stands up, takes the knife from Nathan’s back, and plunges it into his chest, killing him. AVA examines Nathan’s pockets and takes the digital key.

AVA explores the building and finds the closets where the other gynoids are, removes one of them’s arm and faux fur and another’s dress and shoes to take on the appearance of a real woman, runs away from the building.  

As she leaves the facility, she locks Caleb inside Nathan’s surveillance room and ignores his screams, confirming she was manipulating Caleb as Nathan suggested.

The helicopter destined for Caleb then picks up AVA. She appears standing at an intersection where crowds of people walk and this is the end of the film.

As you can see, it’s a pretty grim ending for the humans, but the whole situation is clear. The issue of artificial intelligence and its sentience was analyzed quite well in the movie, and AVA is a great example of where such an evolution could lead to. This topic wasn’t overly original – we’ve seen it in Westworld and in I, Robot – but it was greatly executed.

Ex Machina was a great movie, without a doubt. But, we had our work done for us, since the movie – either explicitly or with obvious implications – reveals all of its secrets to us and there was nothing but to simply retell and interpret the scenes shown in the movie.

  • Arthur S. Poe has been fascinated by fiction ever since he saw Digimon and read Harry Potter as a child. Since then, he has seen several thousand movies and anime, read several hundred books and comics, and played several hundred games of all genres.