Ex Machina: Ava The Final Girl
After I watched Men, I went to see what others had to say about it, and the first place I went to was a recorded conversion about the film on Diregentleman’s channel. Toward the end of the conversation, Henry Galley says Men further diminished Garland’s previous two films. Personally, I didn’t get that in regards to Annihilation, but Ex Machina, on the other hand, I hadn’t seen before.
I did not watch Garland’s directorial debut in 2014. And my reason is that I have been obsessed with pop culture about robotic A.I. ever since I was a kid from Astro Boy (circa. 2003), Ghost in the Shell franchise (though that’s more cyborg, but still), 2001: A Space Opera, Blade Runner, The Iron Giant, Transformers, the Terminator franchise, 9 (more of alchemy take on it), iRobot, Bicentennial Man, Robots, and probably a lot more. And my god, they also play an essential component in most sci-fi franchises that matter to me, like the Alien franchise, Star Trek and Star Wars. And while I still like many of these entries, I have to admit that I probably don’t want a fair few anymore. And quite a lot are very surface-level about the subject of A.I., and by the time Ex-Machina came out, I was burnt out robotic A.I. and hesitant to give something new a chance.
Even though I felt Galley’s assessment was wrong about Annihilation, I was still somewhat willing to give this the benefit of the doubt in regards to Ex Machina. After all, I had read the Wikipedia page for Ex Machina years ago, and it didn’t seem like it was bringing up anything new.
Then the YouTuber Shaun released a specific video that would prompt me to watch Ex Machina. The video is called How Wikipedia Got Ex Machina (2014) Wrong, and early into it, Shaun says he takes issue specifically with how the article interpreted the ending. At that point, I had to stop the video because I distinctly remembered how the conclusion had been described, and I wanted to see if the actual product would deliver a different result.
And it certainly did deliver a different result and for the better.
Now, if you were under the impression that Ex Machina was a story that ends in tragedy, you would be wrong. Shaun goes over this in his video that the story switches protagonists at some point in the movie. And even then, when the film finally introduces Ava, the movie continuously makes a case for her humanity, especially at the end. However, based on the wording of that initial Wikipedia article and how I’ve heard people discuss the film, it seems people didn’t get that Ava was a person but came away with the message that all A.I. are dangerous no matter the circumstances.
Now I can somewhat see why people think this way regarding Ex Machina. While I don’t think Caleb is a good person, once you think over his motivations and such, the implication that he is trapped in an isolated, indestructible home with no food, water or communication means he is going to die horribly. It is possibly a more sickening way to go than how Nathan and Kyoko ended up going.
However, before this movie came out, Game of Throne’s season two finale Valor Morghulis did something similar with Daenerys’ storyline. After she discovers her handmaiden and Xaro in bed together, confirming they betrayed her to conspirators, she locks them up in a vault to die in. From my experience of watching this moment with others, people were gleeful at this action. I completely understood why Daenerys did what she did despite the discomfort in my gut about how Doreah and Xaro would end up dying.
And so when I watched Ex Machina and saw Ava do the exact same thing, I completely understood why. In fact, I think Ava’s actions were more understandable.
Daenerys’ killing of Doreah and Xaro makes sense because they tried to kill her; however, the extreme torture she leaves them is something else. She had a team behind her that could have killed them instantly, but she wanted to punish them in a cathartic yet cruel way.
Whereas with Ava, she’s all alone and couldn’t kill her abusive creator, Nathan, at least not without the sacrifice Kyoko made and the prior technical assistance of Caleb. Ava is no different from any other final girl escaping at the end of a horror film.
Should she have helped Caleb anyway? Well, Shaun, in his video, makes a case for why she couldn’t trust him, and that’s pretty much where I stand on the issue. Also, she couldn’t physically overpower Nathan, who is a lot stronger than Caleb, but who I also don’t think Ava would have been able to overcome either once her autonomy disappointed Caleb in the end.
Saying that Game of Thrones had the advantage of having more dialogue than Ex Machina, whereas Ex Machina sometimes has conversations stylistically with the sound off. And as such, the film is an excellent example of Garland’s visual storytelling, if nothing else. However, I also like this film’s exposition a lot.
In particular, Caleb questions Nathan about why he gave the A.I.s gender and sexuality. These are exciting conversations, particularly since Caleb is attached to these concepts as proof of Ava’s humanity. And on the other hand, Nathan is distanced from acknowledging the humanity of what he has created despite wanting to create true consciousness artificially. Because he is the one who gave them the concepts of experiencing gender and sexuality, he has a superiority complex about it — a misogynist one at that.
So back to what Galley said about Men diminishing Garland’s previous films. Having seen Ex Machina not too long after Men, I found that Ex Machina’s take on gender was thought-provoking. It further diminished my earlier enjoyment of Men instead of the other way around.
Honestly, I regret not watching this film sooner. The visuality of Ava’s robotic body being nothing like anything else I’d seen in pop culture alone should have tipped me off that this film would not be like the rest of what I had seen.
And if I may end this post with some alternate recommendations, you should go check out Under the Skin for another sci-fi horror about a female character coming to terms with their humanity. And also A Cure For Wellness which I recommend because it is a horror film that I love that most people hate but ironically does what people think the happy version of Ex Machina would have been. And by that, I mean the film doesn’t switch protagonists but has the princely protagonist escape with the strange girl at the end, giving them both a happy ending after escaping the nightmare. It makes you think.