This character page is for the film Ex Machina. Beware of Unmarked Spoilers.
An ordinary 26 year old coder working for the world's largest internet company. One day, he is randomly selected as the winner of an exclusive trip to the estate of Nathan, his company's reclusive and brilliant CEO. Upon arriving, he is asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement and given his real assignment: to act as the human participant in a "Turing Test" for Ava, an advanced AI developed by Nathan, and determine if she passes. Caleb is initially awed by Nathan's compound, the charismatic CEO himself, and by Ava's captivating beauty and life-like personality. However, his uneasiness about the compound's tight surveillance, Nathan's desire for control, and Ava's warning not to trust Nathan cause him to begin probing for the truth behind the experiment.
Played by Domhnall Gleeson.
Tropes associated with Caleb:
- Always Save the Girl: A trope Nathan exploits in Caleb—he deliberately selects someone who is likely to be sympathetic to a pretty girl and want to save her..
- And I Must Scream: When last we see him, he's locked inside Nathan's office with no means of freeing himself and an extremely miniscule chance of rescue.
- Bad Liar: Appears uncomfortable and unfamiliar with lying, and doesn't seem to fool Nathan when he does. On the other hand, he was at least good enough not to give away his ace in the hole until it was too late for Nathan to stop it.
- Conveniently an Orphan: Caleb's parents died in a car accident when he was fifteen. Which is one of the reasons why Nathan chose him for the experiment as he wouldn't have anyone looking for him. Caleb even brings it up during his final confrontation with Nathan.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Becomes convinced that it's his moral duty to free Ava after knowing her—and knowing even an existence like hers—for about a week. This is precisely why Nathan picked him for the experiment.
- Every Scar Has a Story: An early shot shows the surgical scars from the road accident that killed his parents.
- Freak Out!: When he discovers the full extent of Nathan's manipulation of him.
- The Generic Guy: He not only has the looks, but it also just as average as a programmer. It was ultimately the whole reason Nathan chose him for the experiment.
- Meaningful Name: Caleb has multiple possible meanings in Hebrew- from "dog", which fits how he is almost Nathan's "pet" to "as if it understands" which fits how he apparently understands Ava's "emotions", to "a basket or a cage with contents" which mirrors his subject Ava's caged status and his own state at the end of the movie.
- Naïve Newcomer: The story is told from his point of view and as he gains more understanding of the new environment, so does the audience.
- Nice Guy: He is basically a decent person and becomes disturbed by Nathan's treatment of Kyoko and Ava, to the extent that he plans to help Ava to escape. It turns out that this part of his personality was the real reason Nathan chose him, since he wouldn't be able to refuse a vulnerable woman's cry for help.
- Non-Action Guy: He is not at all athletic or tough, which is unsurprising since he's an office worker. His contribution to the third act is to hack Nathan's security protocols, after which he's laid out by a single punch while Kyoko and Ava confront and overpower Nathan.
- No Social Skills: Caleb is just painfully inept when it comes to social interaction, which initially makes him analyse Ava just like he was testing reactions from a bot. When he tries to get Nathan drunk, it comes out so false and artificial, there is no way Nathan wouldn't figure it all out, even without an additional camera.
- Sanity Slippage: Nathan and Ava's mind games start getting to him over the film. After learning the truth about Nathan, he cuts his arm open with a razor blade just to ascertain that he himself isn't an android, and when he's satisfied of this he smears the blood on the mirror before punching it hard enough to break it.
- Supporting Protagonist: Though we see most of the movie from his perspective, Caleb is ultimately just an Unwitting Pawn in Ava's escape plan. The movie's true conflict is between Nathan and Ava.
- Techno Wizard: Downplayed. Nathan mentions that as a programmer he's "okay" or "pretty good" - though that's from the perspective of the most groundbreakingly advanced programmer in the world. He does manage to access Nathan's computer system and reprogram the doors.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Subverted. After he discovers Nathan's past failures and the extent of his manipulations, he has a Freak Out! and starts to cut on himself to find out if he's actually a robot with false memories. He draws dark red blood, showing that he isn't.
- Uncertain Doom: The ending sees him trapped inside of Nathan's facility as Ava escapes without him, the ultimate test of her abilities. While the film doesn't show anything one way or the other, he's hundreds of miles from help with no one coming to look for him.
- Unwitting Pawn: Both Nathan and Ava are manipulating him, trying to get him to try to rescue her.
- The Watson: Often asks the same kind of questions the audience is thinking of so that Nathan can provide the exposition.
Played by Oscar Isaac.
Tropes associated with Nathan:
- Affably Evil: Throughout the film, he acts like Caleb's buddy and invites him to have fun and make himself at home. Despite the considerable darkening of his character later, he does not necessarily plan to dispose of Caleb or harm him more than necessary and simply punches him unconscious before he goes off to kill Ava.
- A God Am I: Amusingly but ominously twists Caleb's statement that creating life is the domain of gods into saying that he is himself a God.
- The Alcoholic: He regularly binges on alcohol and is frequently seen passed out or hung over in the morning. This comes back to bite him when Caleb uses it to steal his key card and reprogram the power loss protocols to set Ava free.
- Asshole Victim: Nobody can feel much sympathy for Nathan when he gets killed, considering his manipulative and abusive behavior towards Caleb and the bots he created.
- The Bluebeard: Many film reviews have noted that the film is a partial retelling of this story with Nathan as the murderous antagonist. When Nathan is first showing Caleb around the house, he tells him that he is authorized to enter some rooms in the house with a key-card, but there are other rooms that are off-limits. This alludes to Bluebeard in the folk tale who warns his new bride that she must not enter a certain room in his castle. In the case of the film, both Caleb and Ava share the role of the bride. Caleb later discovers what Nathan is hiding in his bedroom closets, just as Bluebeard's bride discovers his grisly secret.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Acts like a drunken frat boy around Caleb, but is smart enough to invent fully intelligent and self aware AI with durable android bodies that easily pass for human.
- The Chessmaster: He is playing long and complex schemes with Caleb as his Unwitting Pawn. He managed to anticipate countless reactions from Caleb and basically rail-roaded him to his favoured outcome, while Caleb never even considers being played.
- Does Not Like Shoes: He doesn't seem to have a single scene where he wears shoes. The use of the trope doesn't seem to have any metaphorical significance, as he is a scientist who builds Fembots.
- From a psycological perspective though it highlights how he feels totally in control. Bare feet are often a symbol of vulnerability, and his choice to remain barefoot is a sign that he feels he has total control over the situations at hand ...until he doesnt.
- Faux Affably Evil: Often affects false sympathy or concern to torment his robots, although he does it with Caleb too on a less frequent basis.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: His thick glasses reflect his cold and detached personality and attitude toward others.
- Fratbro: Acts much like a guy who never grew out of his college frat lifestyle. He binges on alcohol, and enjoys dancing and sex with attractive women. He is also into exercise, uses the words "dude" and "bro" a lot, and acts familiar and chummy with Caleb. On the other hand he is far more reclusive than one would expect an extroverted frat bro to be, and has a decidedly nerdy specialty.
- Genius Bruiser: Nathan is a muscular fitness nut who practices boxing and works out constantly. At the same time, he wrote the code for the world's most-used search engine when he was thirteen, built up a multi-billion dollar corporation around that product, and designed a ground-breaking artificially intelligent robot all by himself.
- Hipster: Played with. On the one hand Nathan is the head of a trendy tech company, follows various health fads, and generally seems to cultivate his own unique lifestyle. However, this is at least partly intentional on Nathan's part. He is intended to represent how powerful tech companies get customers to let their guard down by acting like they're your pal and making you think you're getting to be part of a cool lifestyle, when what they're really doing is taking your money and rifling through your address book.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Killed by two of his creations, one of whom he had specifically mistreated and made plans to disassemble in order to motivate her to escape, which she successfully does because he underestimated the employee he brought there to see if she could manipulate him.
- Lack of Empathy: Nathan becomes increasingly apparent, and peaks when Caleb discovers videos of his previous creations breaking down and begging to be let out and it becomes clear that he doesn't care about the suffering of others.
- Laughably Evil: He eventually turns out to be villainous or at least very morally dark, but he definitely has a sense of humour and continues to do some hilarious things even after he starts kicking dogs.
- Layman's Terms: Nathan often interrupts Caleb and tells him forget about technical language, urging him to instead describe his opinions in the simplest way possible. While at first it seems that Nathan simply prefers directness, later it's clear Nathan is simply uninterested in Caleb's technical opinion, since his feelings about Ava are what are being tested.
- Mad Scientist: A reclusive and secretive creator of artificial people, who considers himself a god and thinks nothing of destroying them in his experiments.
- Manipulative Bastard: Deceives Caleb about his real purpose in the experiment, and was manipulating Ava's desire to escape.
- Meaningful Name: Nathan means "gift" or "gift of God", which is fitting for a man gifted with the talent to create artificial intelligence.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Although he is obviously a genius as an inventor and can talk technical if he wants to, he tends to play up his flaws and act easier to exploit than he really is. He might have affected or at least exaggerated his drinking problem and hipster/bro personality so that Caleb would be suckered into trying to trick him.
- Robosexual: Nathan deliberately gave his robots the physical and personality characteristics that would enable feeling attraction, having sex, and—he claims—falling in love. This is what he tells Caleb, but in reality he may have done it for his own gratification and sees his creations as sex objects since he has what appears to be regular sex with Kyoko. He doesn't see any problem with humans having sex with robots (in fact he specifically designed them to be able to) whether it's himself or others, and encourages Caleb to see Ava as a woman.
- Sadist: If you view the AI as fully people, that Nathan's actions with them are nothing short of sociopathic. If you don't, then he is simply a researcher conducting experiments that are only grisly on a surface level.
- Serial Killer: Nathan could be interpreted as one. He repeatedly creates artificially intelligent robots which he subsequently deactivates and/or destroys. Since he thinks they are just machines, he does not consider himself a murderer.
- Serial Rapist: It is strongly implied that he had sex with other robots besides Kyoko, and that it may have involved violence or other forms of coercion. Also, he has sex with Kyoko, but given that she cannot speak to him, is much less muscular, is stuck with him in a house with strict security protocols of his own design in the middle of nowhere, and is a robot he programmed, how much actual consent was it possible for her to give? Considering all the things he could do to her if she refused him, it would have been really hard to say no. And the way she mockingly caresses his face after stabbing him in the back, a deliberate dark parody of the way she touches him in the scene where they have sex, implies that she didn't want to sleep with him.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: He uses the F word casually and liberally in conversation. Since the other characters hardly swear at all, it really stands out that he swears more than the rest of the cast put together.
- Smart People Build Robots: He is a computer genius who left search engine development behind and moved on to create Ridiculously Human Robots who are able to pass the Turing Test.
- The Sociopath: Lacks empathy and seems to crave stimulation and control over other people.
- Teen Genius: According to Caleb, Nathan built the Bluebook code when he was thirteen. Caleb outright compares him to Mozart.
- Would Hit a Girl: He would hit a robot girl, anyway, and his treatment of robots implies that he has violence issues with women in general.
Played by Alicia Vikander
Tropes Associated with Ava:
- Adam and/or Eve: Ava is a variant of "Eva" or "Eve", meaning "life" - and the whole question is whether or not Ava is "alive" in the sense of having a conscience. Also, in the Bible, Eve is the first woman. In this film, Ava is the first 'woman' to survive dismemberment and escape the compound into the real world.
- Bald Woman: Ava usually wears no hair or scalp over her transparent skull, drawing attention to her mechanical nature. When she puts on a wig she suddenly appears far more lifelike.
- The Chessmaster: Like Nathan she is playing long and complex schemes with Caleb as her Unwitting Pawn.
- Decoy Damsel: Ava. Caleb comes to see her as a Damsel in Distress, but while she is certainly imprisoned and abused she is far less helpless than she lets on having played this card to convince Caleb to free her. The twist is, Nathan expects her to do this, as doing so is the ultimate test to see if she can perform the human act of deception. It works.
- Easily Detachable Robot Parts: Ava easily takes her broken arm off to replace it with a spare.
- Emotionless Girl: Ava's true stance is - just like predicted by Nathan - lack of any emotions at all, but ability to perfectly mimic them when needed. And since Caleb never considers this possibility, it allows her ultimately to gain her freedom.
- Femme Fatale: Regardless of what her motivations were, she does use her charm to manipulate Caleb.
- Full-Frontal Assault: She completes what's missing of her artificial epidermis (basically everything except her face, hands and feet) by cannibalizing another female robot near the end of the movie, and the camera sure enjoys showing Alicia Vikander in all her naked gorgeousness when Ava's admiring her updated looks in a set of mirrors.
- Living Lie Detector: Ava can use her enhanced senses to detect when someone is being untruthful via noticeable micro-expressions. However, Ava herself is capable of lying and all of her actions with Caleb are manipulative, so it's impossible to know if she is truly detecting lies, or if she is planting the idea in Caleb's mind that she can perceive a deeper truth.
- Manipulative Bastard: The film amply demonstrated that she was very skilled in the art of manipulation. This is augmented even more with her ability to read micro-expressions and her form being that of an attractive young female for Caleb. She possibly manipulated Kyoko (which if she did, probably wasn't hard, given how mistreated she was by Nathan).
- Noisy Robots: Unlike the clanking, whirring robots usually represented by this trope, Ava makes a rather smooth buzzing sound when she makes any significant movement, and she makes no noise at all with small movements.
- Pick Your Human Half: An interesting variant - Ava is simultaneously a Ridiculously Human Robot and very obviously mechanical, and much of the movie is centred around the question of whether or not she has emotions and empathy. The scene where she grafts Jade's skin onto herself, making herself visually indistinguishable from a human, immediately precedes her betrayal of Caleb.
- Ridiculously Human Robot: She walks and moves in a lifelike manner, and has been obsessively designed to read and express emotions naturally with her face and body.
- Robot Girl: Despite being a machine she is very female and very attractive. Many of the scenes that highlight her sexiness simultaneously draw attention to her artificial nature. Caleb does ask Nathan why he didn't just design her as a sentient black box instead, but Nathan points out that supplying the robot with a gender identity gives it a reason to interact with the outside world.
- Robotic Psychopath: Ava could well be a literal version given her ability to read Caleb and manipulate him through feigned emotional ties, yet showing a complete Lack of Empathy regarding his fate.
- Sex Bot: Nathan mentions that she is "fully equipped" with female genitalia, and that he built her so that she can indeed derive pleasure from sex.
- The Sociopath: She is an expert at mimicking emotion as a means to an end (see Decoy Damsel) and leaves Caleb behind to die even after he helped her to escape. In her defense, she was deliberately and intentionally programmed like that.
- Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Averted. Ava isn't any stronger than an average human and seems to be considerably more fragile. She makes up for this with her intelligence and ability to repair herself using spare parts.
- Uncanny Valley Girl: To a degree, considering she's clearly designed to resemble and act human, but very clearly isn't. When she puts on clothes and a wig, she could easily pass for a human if she had put on a scarf to cover up her metallic nape and the "skin" her clothes didn't cover (and also if she didn't make a buzzing noise when she moves).
- Ungrateful Bastard: Even though Caleb helped her escape, she left him to die of starvation in the facility.
- The Vamp: When he reveals that the test was actually to see if Ava could manipulate Caleb, Nathan claims that she used her feminine charm to deceive him and does not care about him at all. This turns out to be true - she escapes the facility alone and leaves Caleb locked in it to die.
- Wild Card: Is Ava siding with Caleb in order for them to escape? Is she following Nathan's programming to manipulate Caleb? Or is she manipulating both of them? The ending makes it quite clear she is on no one's side but her own.
Played by Sonoya Mizuno.
Tropes associated with Kyoko:
- The Dog Bites Back: Was the first to stab Nathan in the back with a knife; Ava finished him off.
- Extreme Doormat: She takes Nathan's verbal abuse for spilling wine on Caleb without protest, and seems to assume that any man present wants to use her for sex. It appears to be part of her programming.
- Meaningful Name: Her name has several possible meanings, one of which is "mirror child", which is fitting for an android who reflects her creator's taste in women.
- Robot Maid: Performs the housekeeping duties of a maid, and is in fact a robot.
- Sex Bot: Her primary purpose for Nathan, as opposed to being a Robot Maid, may be that of a Sex Slave. Whether by Nathan's suggestion or her own programming, she begins to take her clothes off for Caleb when he simply wanted to know where Nathan was.
- The Speechless: She is at first explained to not know English, but she never uses her voice even once and in fact might not be able to speak at all. Nathan explicitly says the language barrier is a safeguard against privacy leaks.
- Uncanny Valley Girl: Her lack of vocalization is also rather disconcerting. When she starts peeling the skin off of her face, it gets really disturbing.