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Film / Ex Machina

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"One day, the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa: an upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction."

Ex Machina (sometimes stylised as EX_MACHINA) is a 2014 British science fiction thriller film written and directed by Alex Garland, marking his directorial debut, and starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno.

Set 20 Minutes into the Future, a young programmer named Caleb (Gleeson) who works at a dominant tech company wins a competition to spend a week in the isolated compound of the company's CEO, a reclusive billionaire named Nathan (Isaac).

Upon arrival, Nathan informs Caleb that he will take part in a Turing test, evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced, intelligent and breathtaking female humanoid robot named Ava (Vikander). However, Caleb's purported involvement in "the greatest scientific event in the history of man" is not all that it seems. He soon finds out that both Nathan and his creation have deeper intentions than meet the eye, and this discovery slowly leads him to the dark truth behind the luxurious retreat.

The film mixes together a lot of AI-centric tropes, and dashes in a great deal of Alternate Character Interpretation when it comes to the three main characters.

It has nothing to do with the Brian K. Vaughan comic.

Character tropes go on to the Characters Sheet.

This film provides examples of:

  • 30-Second Blackout: Caleb gets temporarily locked in his room when the main power goes out one night, and shortly after comes back on. These short, unexplained power failures continue happening, sometimes during Caleb's sessions with Ava. It turns out that Ava is causing the outages herself, and is using them to talk to Caleb without Nathan watching them.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The knife that Kyoko and Ava use to kill Nathan is able to cut into his flesh like warm butter with a gentle push.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: As the movie progresses, we see that both Ava and her creator have agendas they're not sharing with Caleb. This is ultimately left ambiguous; the film ends with Nathan dead by his abused creations' hands, and Caleb trapped in the complex. Leaving Nathan to die is actually the very first thing Ava does after gaining her freedom, though her motivations for doing so are left up to interpretation.
  • Alternative Turing Test: A Turing test would be done blind with the tester interacting with both an artificial intelligence and a human, and the AI fails the test if the tester can tell which is which. In this movie, the robot's creator asserts that his robot Ava is beyond this test and could pass it easily. Instead, he wants Ava to convince the tester that she is "human" even though he knows she's a robot.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: The film goes out of the way to sidewind around the Turing Test, claiming that it isn't really a Turing Test in the strict sense, but even when it is describing how a Turing Test is supposed to work, it gets it wrong. A true Turing Test, even a properly blind one, requires at least one human subject alongside the AI to act as a control. The whole point of the Turing Test is that you can't prove that an AI is sentient by talking to it, because you can't prove that people are sentient by talking to them. All you can do is demonstrate that an AI displays as much sentience-indicating behavior as a person.
  • Author Appeal: In-Universe, Nathan made all of his robots not only in the form of women but ones who he found attractive. The exception is Ava, whom he built based on the women whom Caleb finds attractive, so she'd appeal to him. He states he's also made them capable of sexual pleasure, and "fully functional" (for the obvious reasons).
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • The title is Latin for "from within/out of the machine". It is also from the phrase "Deus ex Machina", which translates literally to "god from the machine".
    • Invoked with the alcohol bottle labels, of all things. Nathan drinks "Keikaku" beer, which means "plan" in Japanese, and he also drinks "Koros" vodka, Koros being the Greek demon of disdain and surfeit (disgust brought about by overindulgence).
  • Bland-Name Product: Blue Book is pretty much Google in all but name; it even sounds like "Google" when characters say it quickly. The name also refers to Facebook by invoking the color blue (just as Facebook uses), and using the same name format of "four-letter-word + book".
  • Brutal Honesty: Nathan tells Caleb to his face that his coding skills are so-so. He does move him up to "being good", and it is from the perspective of the world's best programmer, and scaling his perspective doesn't necessarily tell us much about Caleb's skill.
  • Cabin Fever: Caleb learns that each iteration of the AI eventually developed a condition similar to cabin fever, always trying desperately to get out. So desperate was one version that it shattered its own arms by constantly beating the glass panel separating it from freedom. Ava is no different in this regard, but simply smarter than previous versions and with Caleb to use for her goals.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: A close-up on Caleb's phone reveals that there is no network in the area, which adds to the isolation of the place.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • There is a brief scene of Kyoko preparing dinner and a close-up of her slicing fish with a knife. This knife later becomes very important when she and Ava stab Nathan to death with it.
    • The dumbbell becomes one, when Nathan uses it as an Improvised Weapon.
    • Nathan mentions on first meeting Caleb that he always abstains from booze the day after a bender. This is why Caleb's plan to get him drunk a second time fails. Fortunately, Caleb has already anticipated this.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Nathan has a regular exercise regimen and is seen using a punching bag more than once in the film; he's quite muscular in stark contrast to the skinny Caleb. When Caleb's plan to free Ava succeeds, Nathan knocks him out with one punch before going to confront Ava.
  • Closed Circle: Caleb is dropped off by helicopter into a compound in the middle of a vast wilderness, with no other means of leaving available to him. His communication with the outside world is cut off because his cell phone has no signal and he can't use the keycard-locked house phones. This is entirely intentional on Nathan's part, as his goal was to create a secret and undisturbed place for his experiments.
  • Cool House: Nathan's home looks like a few wooden buildings from the outside, but it's largely a spacious subterranean compound. Nathan describes his home as being primarily a research laboratory, but it has all the comforts of a futuristic mansion. There is an elaborate security system and a huge amount of advanced technology in the labs. He also owns the vast tracts of pristine forests and mountains around it, such that two hours of the helicopter ride are spent flying over them.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: In trying to execute his plan to help Ava escape, Caleb, well, succeeds, but Ava leaves him locked in a room deep within Nathan's compound, leaving no one in the outside world to know about her or her escape. Ava has no interest in helping Caleb escape as well.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Nathan's plot to prove that Ava is truly sentient, his real one, that is works flawlessly, and even Caleb's moves to stop Nathan are mostly for naught. Nathan was all set to win, then the one thing he didn't see coming was Kyoko's rebellion and murder attempt on him, which gave Ava the opening needed to kill him.
    • Nathan's plot was also stopped by the fact that Caleb had set his plan in motion the previous night, and then lied about it to Ava, knowing that Nathan would be listening in.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Discussed when Caleb asks if Nathan made Ava attractive and programmed her to flirt in order to distract him the way a magician uses his hot assistant to distract the audience. Nathan denies it and instead proposes that sexual attraction gives her reason to interact with humans but later reveals that he made Ava to be specifically attractive to Caleb so she would be better able to manipulate him.
  • Do Androids Dream?: Caleb is forced to ponder whether Nathan's work is actually sentient and feeling or simply able to effectively simulate these qualities to a greater or lesser degree. The film does not definitively resolve this ambiguity, requiring viewers to decide based on their interpretation of the characters' actions.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After spending their short lives being imprisoned and exploited by Nathan, Kyoko and Ava stab him to death.
  • Downer Ending: Depending on who you empathise with. Ava manages to escape. Nathan killed Kyoko. Nathan is mortally wounded by Kyoko and then left for dead by Ava. Caleb is currently trapped inside of the facility, with his chances of getting out without help slim to none.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Caleb falls in love with Ava and is willing to risk everything to rescue her within days of meeting her. Nathan and arguably Ava are separately manipulating him to evoke this exact response.
  • Easter Egg: Code displayed on a screen at one point is actually a program to print the ISBN of a book called "Embodiment and the inner life: Cognition and Consciousness in the Space of Possible Minds."
  • Ending by Ascending: After her ordeal with Caleb and her evil creator, Ava ascends the stairs out of the bunker house she was raised in and into the outside world.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Caleb finds himself locked in a room, ignored by Ava while she makes her escape. He will eventually die of starvation if not rescued.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Caleb finds videos of Nathan's sessions with earlier android models, who are stark naked, and it is NOT presented in a sexy manner. And then he finds Nathan's closet full of dismembered androids... It's also heavily implied he has sex with them, given that he points out they're "fully equipped" and we see Kyoko in his bed, both clothed and nude.
    • For a softer example, there's the scene where Ava pieces together a new synthetic skin from parts of old android, leaving her with a fully realistic (nude) human body. Because of the context, the scene comes off as more poignant than erotic.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Nathan watching Caleb specifically is foreshadowed in the very first scene of the film: when Caleb finds out he won the contest, there is a camera angle from the POV of the camera on his phone, which shows patterns from a face-detection algorithm on him and those around him. Later on, in Nathan's home/research facility, when Caleb is in his bathroom and cuts his arm, there is a POV from the camera inside his mirror, which shows the same pattern.
    • The cracked glass in the room that Caleb uses to interact with Ava. When Caleb watches the video recordings of the previous gynoid models, it's revealed that these cracks were made by Jade out of frustration.
    • One of the lyrics of the song that plays in the dance scene is "work your fingers to the bone". Later when Caleb watches the video of Jade banging her arms on the door, her fingers are the first to disintegrate. Additionally, her arms are worked to the bone.
    • When Kyoko leaves the dinner, we see that all she has is a napkin and a dish, and no pockets. She unlocks the elevator with her bare hand, without a keycard. Nathan and Caleb use keycards for such locks. This implies that Kyoko has electronics in her hand, and foreshadows her full reveal.
    • Kyoko perfectly mimicking Nathan moves in real time, while he's drunk. Now what that could possibly mean...
    • The film explains how a Turing Test works (incorrectly), only to then start the very first session that goes against the most basic rule of such a test. Which is even invoked in-universe by Caleb. It's the first hint Nathan isn't just doing some basic test and instead deliberately is trying to evoke specific reactions from Caleb.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Caleb uses Nathan's computer, we see, for a split second, folders named AVA, KYOKO, JADE, JASMINE, KATYA, LILY and AMBER. Also, on the desktop is a folder named DEUS EX MACHINA.
  • Gambit Pileup: A three-way cross of them:
    • Nathan orchestrates all three, by bringing Caleb to his home under false pretenses so that Caleb can administer a Turing Test on Ava. Which is further false pretenses, as Nathan was trying to see if Ava could utilize a whole suite of human attributes to successfully manipulate Caleb as a part of a larger, more elaborate and comprehensive Turing test of Ava's sapience. Once she proved it, Nathan could force Caleb to leave his estate and he would reboot Ava into the next iteration, effectively killing her current iteration.
    • Ava didn't want to be trapped in a prison, and seduced Caleb into wanting to flee with her, using Caleb as a means of escape. She was also causing the power outages, which gave her and Caleb a bit of privacy in which she could make a few more pointed statements about her desire to escape. Nathan knew all of this, and his own plan relied on it.
    • Finally, Caleb made a plan, not quite knowing Ava was manipulating him, made a more mundane ploy, by trying to get Nathan piss drunk, steal his key card, reprogram the house's security protocols to unseal the doors during a power outage instead of sealing, and he could make a getaway with Ava when she caused one last outage. Nathan saw right through this and didn't let himself be manipulated. This would have kept Ava in her room, except Caleb suspected Nathan was still watching during the power outages (he was right), and did the legwork the night before, letting Ava get out. At this point, all three parties' plans were in shambles, and would have to wing it.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Nathan's true aim is to test if Ava is "human" enough to manipulate Caleb into helping her escape. She does, and she immediately murders Nathan.
  • Held Gaze: Lampshaded by Ava, who points out that Caleb holding her gaze is a sign that he's attracted to her. When escaping from the lab, Ava gives a Long Last Look to Kyoko, barely glancing at Caleb as the lift doors close.
  • Hope Spot: After Ava dresses herself in skin and a nice dress around the climax, you may think she is now going to go surprise Caleb with it and run away with him. She doesn't. Instead, she exits by herself, leaving him trapped in Nathan's compound — presumably until he eventually dies.
  • Idiot Ball: Nathan has (1) developed software that funds a giant corporation, (2) retained control of that corporation in the world business scene, and (3) developed humaniform robots and sapient AI. After years of being "the smartest guy in the room", it's psychologically plausible that he's overconfident he can outthink Caleb, Ava and Kyoko. Yet even with all this in mind, the ball is still rolling:
    • Nathan's house doubles as a state-of-the-art research facility and features independent room access, cameras backed by facial recognition software, and even a lockdown protocol in case of power failure. And yet access is controlled only by plastic cards without passwords or biometrics
    • Nathan spends a great deal of his time drunk while having over a house guest who he is deliberately trying to set up to betray him. To be fair, his behavior was probably a deliberate ploy to make Caleb more sympathetic to Ava. But when coupled with the above idiot ball...
    • The only reason the final act can happen is because, for whatever reason, Nathan didn't see a crucial part of the CCTV recordings, when Caleb was busy setting up his ploy. To drive this point home, Nathan knew Caleb was on his computer already, since he staged the whole situation from the start. In the same time, this makes Caleb's plot a massive case of Gambit Roulette, as it can only work if for whatever reason Nathan is not checking all the recordings.
    • None of the androids come with a remote way to turn them off or any other deactivation mechanism. Since Caleb didn't have to know about it existing, it makes it even more questionable why Nathan didn't prepare for such an obvious possibility, since his test was all about letting Ava escape, with no way to turn her off in case of success.
    • Even if the above weren't included, why design the bots with strength even close to human level? Nathan works out all the time, and he's still barely able to overpower Ava when she attacks him, allowing Kyoko the opportunity to attack him from behind. The idea that a bot might become physically violent and should therefore be designed with weaker strength should have been apparent when one of them was able to put a significant crack in a security barrier.
    • Caleb never, ever, for even a single second assumed that it might be Ava manipulating him all the time. Then again, Nathan makes it clear by the end he picked Caleb because how ridiculously average and socially awkward he is, not due to being smart.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Robot Girl Ava's goal is to convince Caleb to help her break free from her creator Nathan's control and see the world for herself, specifically referencing the Platonic Cave idea. She eventually succeeds by leaving Nathan to die and then leaving Caleb locked in.
  • I Know You're Watching Me: Ava plays into this to flirt with Caleb.
  • Incest Subtext: Nathan claims it would be natural for Ava to bond with Caleb, as he's the first man she's seen, whereas he's like Ava's father. The revelation that Nathan is using his creations for his own sexual gratification raises the possibility of something like this trope.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: Caleb's taste in internet porn surprisingly becomes plot-relevant. At one point he asks Nathan whether he used this data to design Ava to match his preference. Nathan confirms this.
  • In the Back: Kyoko attacks Nathan from behind while he was busy keeping Ava in check.
  • Ironic Echo: After the session in which Caleb tells Ava to pick something to draw because it will be interesting to see what she chooses, she tells him to say something about himself. When he asks why she doesn't pick, Ava says, "Because I'm interested to see what you'll choose."
  • Just a Machine: Nathan ultimately shows no empathy towards his creations; whatever pride he may have in them, he clearly thinks nothing of repeatedly dismantling them and starting over. Caleb does, although his motives are a little ambiguous. In the end, Ava leaves them both behind to escape.
  • Latex Perfection: The skin on the robots is easily moved from robot to robot and blends with no seams. Or maybe they aren't that perfect - for a brief moment, when Ava assembles her full body skin, all the seams are clearly visible. Then the camera switches to the mirror image of what she sees and the skin suddenly is perfectly smooth and seamless. Given the mind-screwy nature of the film, this might be more than intentional.
  • Made of Plasticine: The gynoid is actually designed to be more fragile than an actual human to avoid the possibility of her overpowering her creator and escaping.
    • Ava takes a blow that would break an arm for a human but completely removes hers.
    • Played for horror with Jade, banging on the door to her cell until her arms disintegrate. Though the recording is sped up, it still only took a few minutes.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Downplayed; a somewhat darkly comical moment occurs near the end with Nathan, in shock and attempting to calm himself down, giving off a somewhat nonchalant reaction to being stabbed twice.
    "Okay. Ah. Fucking unreal."
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Nathan deceives Caleb about his real purpose in the experiment, after having manipulated Ava's desire to escape. Hinted early on, when he pressures Caleb to sign the non-disclosure agreement without a lawyer.
    • Ava. 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 intentionally designed around Caleb's preferences..
  • Meaningful Name: All four characters get meaningful (plot-relevant) names.
    • Caleb has multiple possible meanings in Hebrew — "dog", which fits how he is almost Nathan's "pet"; "as if it understands", which fits how he apparently understands Ava's "emotions"; and "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.
    • Nathan means "gift" or "gift of God", which is fitting for a man gifted with the talent to create artificial intelligence.
    • Ava is a variant of "Eva" or "Eve", meaning "life" — and the whole question of the film is whether or not Ava is "alive" in the sense of having a conscience.
    • And then there's Kyoko, whose 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.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Nathan and his domestic, Kyoko, respectively. Kyoko is a robot who is made to resemble an Asian woman, and is programmed to be a subservient, speechless sex slave, whose sole purpose and reason for being built is to cook and clean and provide sexual pleasure for the white* male owner.
  • Minimalist Cast: Except for Caleb's co-workers at the beginning, the helicopter pilot, the previous gynoids who appear only in the old security footage, and the faceless extras at the end—all of whom have very short appearances and/or no lines—Ava, Caleb, Kyoko, and Nathan are the entire cast, and even Kyoko is The Speechless.
  • Mood Whiplash: Caleb confronts Kyoko and asks her where Nathan is, only for Nathan to walk in at that exact moment. Caleb whirls on Nathan and we prepare for an intense confrontation - then Nathan flips on red mood lighting and disco music and starts dancing with Kyoko.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Director Alex Garland described the future presented in the film as "ten minutes from now", meaning that "if somebody like Google or Apple announced tomorrow that they had made Ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn't be that surprised".
  • Nice to the Waiter: Kyoko accidentally spills some wine while serving dinner. Nathan is horrible to her, a clue that he's not as friendly as he seems. By contrast, Caleb immediately tries to reassure her that he's not upset. On the other hand Nathan can be pissed about his robot - if not outright creation - not performing properly, given how he sees Kyoko as a serving bot and is heavily implied to be a perfectionist.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Caleb helps Ava escape but, without a second thought, she leaves him behind to die a slow, agonizing death by starvation in the compound.
  • 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, like tilting her head in puzzlement, and she makes no noise at all with small movements. Even further, any of Nathan's robots can cover up their noise when covered up by a skin sheath.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • All the doors of Nathan's house can only be opened via keycards, and automatically lock during a power failure. So...what exactly happens during a fire? Or any other kind of emergency situation?
    • Despite the fact that Nathan's Turing Test of Ava was explicitly to see whether she could convince Caleb to help her escape, he had absolutely no contingency in place to stop her when she actually DID manage to get out of her room. Also, it never apparently occurred to him to put any kind of fail-safes against Robot Girl Kyoko rebelling, and yet he constantly lets her handle knives and what not.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Nathan's expression when Caleb reveals he already rewrote the security protocols to let Ava out during a power outage—and she just caused another outage.
    • And Caleb's expression when Ava leaves the compound, and it's clear she doesn't intend to leave with him.
  • Platonic Cave: Discussed by Caleb, but not by name, when he teaches Ava the idea of a person who knows absolutely everything about color, but has never actually seen it as her only source of information is a black and white television. At the end, Ava ascends into the sunlight, leaving the other "prisoners" behind—a direct reference to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Visually underpinned in the last scene by showing the shadows of pedestrians on a sidewalk.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Nathan teases Caleb with the line "Who You Gonna Call?", and then goes on to describe the film Ghostbusters when Caleb doesn't quite get the reference.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: After Caleb fails with his Robotic Reveal in the bathroom, he sees his reflection in the mirror which he then smashes with his fist.
  • Recycled In Space: One review described the film as "Basic Instinct for Robosexuals".
  • Red Herring:
    • There are scenes that hint at Caleb possibly being the real AI, and Ava being used to testing his humanity. Lampshaded when Caleb himself starts to wonder if he's real after the reveal that Kyoko is an AI, checking to see if his own skin is fake and even cutting himself.
    • In the end, the Episode Title Card "Ava Session 7" appears on-screen even though Caleb isn't administering the Turing test and Nathan is already dead. This may suggest that Ava was testing the two of them the entire time.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Nathan - working by himself - makes real, working sex and house-servant robots. His robots also walk on two legs like a human, something 2014 robots have a devil of a time with. The rest of the world evidently doesn't have any of this, or Caleb wouldn't have needed it explained to him. Instead of making more money in dumb robot tech, he keeps it to himself and plays with putting AI in the bodies.
    • Since we have no glance on the world of the film and the date is not established, it might simply happen 20 Minutes into the Future, where such technologies are already common enough. Nathan after all lampshades how all his own achievements weren't about "if" but "when" someone will do something similar.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Nathan explains that he hacked cell phone networks to gather enough facial data for Ava to read micro-expressions, then boasts that he'll never face any consequences for it because the companies would have to admit they were already doing it.
  • The Reveal: Nathan recruited Caleb for his psych profile, not his computer skills. The actual Turing Test is to see whether Ava can manipulate him into helping her escape.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Nathan's goal is to create robots based on Ava that could pass as human if they were made to look like people. Ava walks and moves in a lifelike manner, and has been obsessively designed to read and express emotions naturally with her face and body. Kyoko actually manages to fool Caleb, although she apparently cannot speak. Nathan justifies this as a necessity. An A.I. with no form or one merely designed for practicality (a box, for example) would have no reason to relate to a human.
  • 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). Ava is no exception. 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 her as a woman. Ava expresses attraction towards Caleb and he is implied to find her attractive too, although he's reluctant to admit it.
  • Robosexuals Are Creeps: Software programmer Caleb is invited to study a robot built by his company's CEO Nathan. The robot, Ava, resembles an attractive human woman, and Caleb is unnerved by how he seems to be falling for her and accuses Nathan of making her attractive so as to incline Caleb towards giving a favorable review. He then discovers that Nathan has built many other artificial women before Ava, most of which he abused and discarded and the last which he keeps around as a housemaid and sex slave, much to Caleb's horror. As for Ava, she was indeed built to take advantage of Caleb's affections, and his suspicions aren't enough to prevent him from falling for her and obliviously helping her until she discards him when his aid is no longer needed.
  • Robotic Reveal: Kyoko reveals to Ava (albeit indirectly) that she is also an A.I., albeit less advanced than Ava.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Nathan has a wall lined with thousands of stick-it notes. Although it looks organized, this trope coupled with the computer screens he's using to monitor his subject give an early hint to how disturbed he is.
  • Safely Secluded Science Center: Eccentric CEO Nathan Bateman lives in a forbidding, modernist mansion deep in the Alaskan wilderness. It doubles as his research center where he works on perfecting artificial intelligence.
  • Scenery Porn: Nathan's estate is built in a beautiful valley, and the audience is regularly gratified by a shot of the landscape. In fact, filming was done in Norway, though it could easily double as Washington State or British Columbia.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Caleb's ultimate fate: locked in a room in Nathan's locked-down house with no power, hundreds of miles from any sort of help. There is a fridge full of water, but there's little chance of him getting out or of anyone coming to look for him before he dies of starvation.
  • Sexbot: Nathan mentions that Ava is "fully equipped" with female genitalia and that he built her so that she can indeed derive pleasure from sex. Nathan used Ava's predecessors in this way, including Kyoko, whose 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.
  • Shoot the Builder: Nathan quips that he can't call someone in to fix the blackout problem as he killed off the builders. At least, we assume he's joking...
  • Shout-Out:
    • The name of Nathan's company, Bluebook, is a reference to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose Blue and Brown Books first dealt with many of the key topics and themes of the film. Even more subtly, the expensive-looking painting the camera lingers on in Nathan's retreat is of Wittgenstein's sister (done by Gustav Klimt, whose work sells in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and is collected by the ultra-rich). The film was even shot in the same rural part of Norway to which Wittgenstein occasionally retreated, although set elsewhere.
    • Nathan's "Who You Gonna Call" reference which Caleb doesn't quite get.
    • Describing his house/research facility, Nathan says that there are so many fiber-optic leads that you could "lasso the moon".
    • When Nathan, founder of "Bluebook", is first showing Caleb around the house, he tells Caleb that he is authorized to enter some rooms in the house but not all. Any room that Caleb's key card won't authorize him to enter is off-limits to him. This is reminiscent of the fairy tale Bluebeard in which a wealthy aristocratic man of that name warns his new bride that she must not enter a certain room in his castle. When he leaves the castle, she succumbs to temptation and enters the room, discovering to her horror the murdered bodies of his previous wives who had disappeared mysteriously. The allusion to "Bluebeard" continues when Caleb later discovers what is in the closets of Nathan's room (the discarded bodies of his past-female-androids, whom he used for sex).
    • The blond robot in Nathan's closet is missing her arms and legs, making her look like a dead ringer of the Puppet Master from Ghost in the Shell. Further, Ava, like the Puppet Master, has the ability to turn off the power and the question of her sentience is a key plot issue.
    • Nathan's surname is Bateman. While his namesake dismembers human beings, he dismembers his robots.
    • Robert Oppenheimer's quote from the Bhagavad Gita: not only the well-known "I have become Death, destroyer of worlds" but also "The good deeds a man has done before defend him".
    • Just before Nathan passes out he says, "It's Promethean, man." The Either/Or Title of Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. Like Nathan, Viktor Frankenstein created an artificial human, only to fall victim to his own hubris.
  • Silent Whisper: Ava communicated something to Kyoko. We don't get to hear the exact words but it probably was something that prompted her to stab Nathan.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Even when Nathan isn't present, his security cameras are watching, making Caleb grow increasingly uncomfortable and paranoid. He even had one behind Caleb's mirror, and had another that was battery-powered in Ava's room, allowing him to know Caleb's plan to help Ava.
  • Sliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable: The writer/director stated in interviews that Ava's choice to leave Caleb in an inescapable room to die slowly and painfully was about "survival." However, since the movie doesn't even hint at this necessity it comes off more as being even crueler than her killing Nathan.
  • Sounding It Out: Caleb reads the details of the non-disclosure agreement aloud so the audience can hear.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The movie's soundtrack uses this to great effect. Notably, there's the crazy dance scene between Nathan and Kyoko, which uses an upbeat Disco track while Nathan is essentially commanding his personal slave to dance for him. And at the end of the movie, a beautifully serene orchestral piece plays as Ava murders Nathan in cold blood and leaves Caleb locked in the lab to die of starvation.
  • Stocking Filler: Ava dresses up in a wig, dress and stockings to cover her transparent body parts. Although at the time it seems to be the Become a Real Boy trope, Caleb later watches on the camera as she slips off a stocking, and it's played for the traditional fanservice. It's at this point that Caleb starts to worry that he's being sexually manipulated.
  • Symbolic Glass House: Exaggerated. Nathan's very isolated mansion in the jungle has vast glass windows and huge expanses of glass, to show the way in which it's just a larger form of the glass prison in which Ava (and his previous "robots" before her) are held.
  • Take That!:
    • Nathan's quip about the cell phone companies not being able to complain that he hacked their networks because that would be admitting they were spying on their own customers too. This is clearly a dig at how the major phone and internet companies in Real Life retain people's personal data for their own use and sale to third parties or disclose that information to government surveillance programs.
    • Few scenes later he complains how different internet browser operators and social networks absolutely failed to see the real potential of the data they collect and just sell it for most basic marketing techniques.
  • Tap on the Head: When Nathan realizes he has been Out-Gambitted by Caleb and pre-emptively coldcocks him. Caleb wakes up a few minutes later, seemingly none the worse for wear, but with bloodied chin.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Subverted. After Caleb discovers Nathan's past failures and the extent of his manipulations, he has a Freak Out and starts to cut himself to find out if he's actually a robot with false memories. He draws dark red blood, showing that he isn't.
  • Too Clever by Half:
    • Nathan's undoing is his pride. He needed to construct a scenario in which Ava would deceive and use Caleb to facilitate her escape, thus proving her sapience. His failing is that someone clever enough to be capable of assisting her, would also be clever enough to outwit him, and thus all his machinations fall apart because Caleb caught on to the game and played into it, which Nathan didn't figure out until it was too late.
    • This also applies to Caleb, when he rightly guessed that Nathan was still able to observe him and Ava when the power outages occurred, and put his plan to free Ava into motion before Nathan realized it was too late. What he didn't count on was Ava betraying him and leaving him locked up in the monitoring room. Meaning, while he saw through Nathan's gambit, he still fell for the Damsel in Distress act that Ava was doing after all.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • One U.S. TV spot spoils Ava turning on the two human characters, which is fairly shocking if you don't know it's coming.
    • Also, one U.S. trailer shows Kyoko peeling back her face, thus spoiling The Reveal that she's a gynoid.
  • Turing Test: The whole point of Caleb's presence. He points out that, traditionally, he shouldn't know Ava is artificial. Nathan dismisses this, claiming that Ava would easily pass if they were in separate rooms. The real test is if Caleb can come to see her as conscious while knowing she's a machine. Actually, it's to see if she can convince him to help her escape, which would be the ultimate test of her abilities. It is also reminiscent of the AI-Box experiment in which an AI with limited input and output has to convince a human "Gatekeeper" to release it into the world.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: While being a computer genius, Nathan obviously failed to encode his creations with Asimov's first law of robotics, that is, it should never harm him. This mistake costs him his own and possibly Caleb's life when the robots finally turn against him.
  • Uncanny Valley: According to the film-makers, Ava was specifically designed to invoke and play with this. Large parts of her body are transparent and contain visible electronics, while wherever she wears skin she looks lifelike yet impossibly perfect. Her movement is not like a stereotypical robot's with jerky movements and mechanical noises, but instead very smooth and accompanied by soft, hard-to-pinpoint sounds. Alicia Vikander, having been a ballet dancer, manages to make her graceful walk and other movements look almost human but with something inexplicably off. The whole concept of her character is to find out whether someone knowing she is a machine will be able to overcome or even skip the discomfort/revulsion caused by the uncanny valley, and instead find her human and sympathetic.
  • Uncanny Valley Girl:
    • Ava, 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).
    • Kyoko's lack of vocalization is also rather disconcerting. When she starts peeling the skin off of her face, it gets really disturbing.
    • Ava had several predecessors, all of whom were nude in their flashback footage. One had a time-lapse of being built up from a pair of legs, section by section, then doing a Supermodel Strut, which dives right into Fan Disservice. Another, we see as a completely skinned woman minus the metal skull and neck vertebrae; Nathan dragging around her lifeless body like a corpse was...creepy. Another one, apparently "Jade", was being interviewed by Nathan and demanding to be let out in her concurrent interviews, until she was clearly desperate and panicked. Her footage ended on her having a Freak Out and battering at the door until her arms disintegrated and eventually gave up, crying. Had she been human, her hands and forearms would have been worn down to the bone.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Zigzagged. Caleb's escape plan is discussed in full before being put into action, leading viewers to expect something to go wrong. Sure enough, Nathan reveals he saw the whole thing via a battery-powered camera. Then it turns out Caleb anticipated that, and did all the legwork the first time he got Nathan drunk, before even mentioning the plan to Ava. And then things go sideways anyway, because Ava turns on Caleb.
  • White Shirt of Death: Nathan wears a white shirt at the end when he gets stabbed by his creations.
  • You Are Too Late: Caleb pulls this on Nathan. When his plan to get Nathan piss-drunk and hack the systems of the compound fails because Nathan had been watching using a battery-powered camera, Caleb reveals he has already changed the necessary protocols the first time he hacked the system, which was while Nathan was passed out drunk the previous night.

"If you've created a conscious machine, it's not the history of man. That's the history of gods."


Video Example(s):


Good AI, Evil AI

MatPat takes you down memory lane and recaps some examples of evil AI, but also shows examples of good AI that have cropped up in recent years

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / AIIsACrapshoot

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