The opening scene takes place inside the offices of BlueBook, a search engine company vaguely reminiscent of Google. Caleb, a 26-year old programmer, wins the company-wide raffle to visit the CEO in person and learn about his latest undertaking.
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Nathan, the CEO, is a reclusive man with an odd mix of traits. Ingeniously smart and eccentric, Nathan has a penchant for lifting weights as well as binge drinking. After being dropped off by helicopter, Caleb meets him in his sprawling underground facility, which is located deep in the wilderness. Caleb learns about his job for the week, which is to be the human component of a Turing Test.
For those that don’t know, the Turing Test is based on an actual thought experiment, which was conceived by Alan Turing, a pioneer in computer science. The Turing Test describes a hypothetical situation in which a human test subject communicates with a machine hidden in a different room. The human subject is not privy to whether the “person” in the other room is a machine or a fellow human. Therefore, the human’s task is to converse with the machine, perhaps asking it difficult questions or testing its capacity for humor. If the machine appears to be indistinguishable from a human, then, according to the Turing Test, that machine would prove to have consciousness.
For Caleb, the test is complicated by the fact that he can clearly see that Ava is a machine. Nathan gave her a transparent body, revealing her mechanical interior and an attractive, human-like face. During his sessions with Ava, Caleb talks to her from behind a glass barrier. She proves to be extremely intelligent and appears to have human emotions. It doesn’t take long for Caleb to fall in love with her and want to help her escape from Nathan’s laboratory.
Meanwhile, Nathan explains that he will eventually upgrade her to a better version of the AI. In order for him to do that, Ava would lose her memories, and therefore, her consciousness. She would not be the same Ava after that. Caleb is noticeably distressed with that news. Nathan justifies that there is no malice in what he is doing. In his view, Nathan is only helping evolution along, allowing the next generation of intelligent beings to emerge.
In a final session with Ava, Caleb discloses Nathan’s plans to “kill” her. He works out a plan with her to enable her escape. Unfortunately, Nathan eavesdrops on their plan. He knocks him out with a punch, but is too late in stopping Ava’s escape. In a cold and callous manner, Ava stabs Nathan with a knife. In a state of shock, Nathan slowly bleeds out and dies in the hallway. Meanwhile, Caleb starts to wake up in the room where Nathan left him.
Ava finds Caleb and tells him to stay there. She goes into a room full of closets. Here, she gathers the parts from defunct robots and uses them to disguise herself, very convincingly, as a human being. After she leaves the room, she passes by the room where Caleb is waiting one last time. To his horror, his key card doesn’t work and he is trapped inside the room. He yells at Ava to let him out but she coldly walks away. She exits the building and boards the helicopter meant to pick up Caleb. Meanwhile, Caleb is left inside the secluded house, presumably to die.
Ava is last seen walking in a busy intersection, blending in with the people around her. The movie ends with Ava starting her new life as a free person. By contrast, Caleb and Nathan’s lives end within the secluded confines of the prison originally built for her. Whether she acted out of revenge or indifference, there is a lot of room for speculation as to why Ava left Caleb in that room.
Analyzing the Ending
The final scene of Ex Machina is possibly one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever watched (and I have seen a lot of so-called scary movies)! What was so frightening was learning how inhumanly conscious Ava really was.
After reading about the alternate ending Alex Garland had in mind, I was even more convinced of Ava’s indifference to human emotions. While she could clearly understand them and manipulate them, she didn’t appear to experience human-like emotions. She had a compelling need to survive and get out of the building, and she was willing to exploit the naivety of human sentiment. In her reality, she is deeply aware of everything around her. She can read people’s minds in no trivial sense. The scary thing is that, while she understood Caleb very well, she only valued this understanding so long as it benefited her ultimate goal of escape. She treated him like a pawn in a game of chess, discarding him after he outlived his usefulness to her.
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