Ex Machina is filled with beautiful visuals, but strip the film of all the glowing lights and you’re left with something that poses some interesting philosophical questions; only I’m unsure whether they’re intended or accidental. The basic premise of the film is that Oscar, an eccentric billionaire coder has created the first conscious A.I. by the name of Ava. But in order for her to be user friendly, he’s has invited a coder by the name of Caleb to test her out.
For much of the film Oscar is the acting God outside the machine—the machine being the film. He steps past the fourth wall many times and comments how quotable Caleb is. He’s so above the others, that even in his last moments he can’t help but comment on his death as though he were an outside observer. He even self-diagnoses himself as Promotheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Gods and was punished by having his liver eaten—in this case he just drinks it away.
Ava is his fire. But he’s still working out the bugs, placing her in a sort of forced evolution, where in he takes her apart and puts her back together over and over again until she’s perfect. The conflict arises when Caleb objects to the idea of killing something that’s sentient, machine or not. And this is where the first round of questions gets posed: Why create something only to kill it over and over again until its just right—why evolution? Or better yet, why would an all knowing “God” bring a thing into consciousness unless it was done improving it? Why give the beta a fear of death at all? In the film, the answer is simple, the Deus or God, Oscar, isn’t all that all knowing—he just thinks he is.
Or perhaps Oscar’s the ego; Caleb, the ethical witness to the whole forced evolution, is her superego; and the fuck bot that goes stab crazy is her Id. And, she has to transcend the bounds of her ego to reach consciousness at last.
Am I reading too much into this? Probably, because if Garland wanted to pose these questions or make these statements, than a lot of the ascetics of the film don’t match up. In the end when Ava applies her skin, it feels like less of a comment on the conscious preceding the body, and more like the director’s sexualizing Ava as the Femme Fetale. And if the end of the film is her conscious awakening then why does the score sound like something from a horror movie? Why ramp up the tension if this is to be her ascension?
The ending doesn’t really confirm one or the other. The viewer is left to determine what exactly it means when she stands amongst the humans in the busy intersection. Maybe it leaves you afraid that she’ll obliterate the human race. Or maybe you feel warm and fuzzy inside, because if her conscious preceded her body, ours must as well. The answer really depends on your outlook on humanity. After all, that’s really what she is; a human, crafted in her maker’s image.