Ex Machina


Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is generally thought to be an excellent Sci-Fi film, garnering international acclaim as one of the most remarkable indy films in recent years. Much has been written about its special effects, the science behind it, and the future of Artificial Intelligence and its possible implication for the reason d'être of humankind. Yet, despite all the hype, the real subject of this film is none of the above. In what follows, I shall illustrate: 1) The real subject of the film is the nature of patriarchal desire; 2) The reason why it cannot be a feminist film; and 3) The reason why it is a great movie for the significant theoretical merits it offers, yet aesthetically failing to materialise its full potential as a great cinematic art.


Part I.


Who Is Ava?

Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, is a thought-provoking movie that will capture the imagination of a wide range of viewers. Whilst the film is focused on Ava (Alicia Vikander) as the most advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence) humankind has ever witnessed, the real subject of this film is neither AI or the self-destruction of human species through technological advancement. It is a movie about the objectification and the subjugation of women by patriarchy. To grasp this truth, we only need to answer one simple question: Who is Ava?

When Nathan (Oscar Isaac) invites one of his employees, Caleb (Domhnall Greeson), to his secret research facility and home, he uses Caleb as a tester of his new creation, Ava. This test is not exactly a Turing test; in a Turing test, the human interlocutor cannot know that one is speaking with an AI in advance. Instead, Caleb has to sit face to face with a breathtaking creature with an elegant female form. Perhaps to catch the interest of a technologist like Caleb, at first Nathan deliberately leaves her ‘naked’; she is without skin or cloth, so that one can closely observe the inner workings of her body.

Whilst Caleb is fascinated by Ava, he is uncomfortable with the realisation that Nathan has something other than a standard technological evaluation in mind. Nathan keeps proving how Caleb is emotionally involved with Ava. How do you find her? Do you think she likes you? He even tells Caleb that Ava is heterosexual. If Caleb has sex with her, Nathan promises, she is capable of feeling pleasure and he will see it in her reactions. By following such conversations between Nathan and Caleb, it becomes clear that Nathan has no doubt whatsoever that Ava is a self-aware, self-motivated being. Caleb is essentially called in to validate what Nathan already knows. Despite being her creator, Nathan believes that Ava is no different from humans. How on earth can one believe that a being made by artificial means be called a human being?

There are reasons which support Nathan’s view. Firstly, we still don’t know anything about the nature of consciousness. Despite all the advancements of cognitive science and neuroscience, we still have no idea what consciousness is, and how it comes about. Once we come to realise this, it becomes impossible to draw a clear line between someone who is born human and an android like Ava. Ava is clearly self-aware, and self-motivated. It means that she is an agent, just like any of us. She expresses her fear of her creator/captor. She longs to be free. She wants Caleb to be interested in her. For the sake of argument, let us for a moment assume that all of these expressions are acts, and not genuine. Still, this does not mean that Ava has no agency. It is just the opposite: if she is acting, she must have a certain motivation with some goal in mind. She is acting in a specific way toward Caleb in order to achieve her goal. Therefore, it is clear that Ava is aware of herself as a separate entity from Caleb or Nathan, and she is a self-motivated agent, like any of us.

This means one thing: unless we are able to find something qualitatively unique to the human consciousness from all other forms of self-awareness, we cannot justifiably declare that a self-conscious being with a recognisably human appearance who behaves like a human is not a human being. Incidentally, this is exactly the point Nathan is driving at Caleb: Ava’s origin is not important; all that matters is how she behaves and how that makes her interlocutor feel.

This brings us to another point: there is essentially no difference between the interactions we have with another human being and the ones we have with Ava. We might want to insist that her ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ are mere mimesis, not genuine. Yet we can say the same about anyone’s expressed thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We can only guess at how others are thinking and feeling. Otherwise, the actions such as acting, or lying, simply become impossible. Once we admit our inability to access what is happening in another person’s mind, we must realise that there is no difference whether we are interacting with Ava, or another human being: We can only guess at what is happening in another’s mind by observing how our counterpart behaves in a given context.

True, we often intuitively feel what is going on with another person. Yet again, it is not clear how helpful this notion of intuition is in our attempt to distinguish Ava from the rest of us. Ava’s observation of Caleb’s emotions is based on her reading of his micro-expressions. At first glance, there is a difference between Ava’s conscious understanding of Caleb’s emotional state from our ‘intuitive’ understanding of it, yet, there really is no difference. When we ‘intuitively’ understand someone’s emotional state, we are essentially processing the same information Ava is reliant on: micro expressions. The difference is that Ava is fully aware of the process, whilst we are not.

And thus, it now becomes clear that Ava is a human being, that is, someone who deserves to be treated as one. The problem is: She is not treated as such. As Nathan fully acknowledges Ava’s agency, his actions brutally deny it.


Who is Nathan? Who is Caleb?

This brings out the true subject of the movie: the objectification and the subjugation of women by patriarchy. Once we realise this, we also see who Nathan really is: a pimp. The way Nathan describes Ava’s sexuality is exactly the way a pimp talks to his customer. He even tries to talk Caleb into having sex with Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), a ‘fem bot’ who represents a stereotype of Asian women, submissive and non-English speaking. She is a mere tool, and, unlike Ava, Nathan does not consider her a threat to be contained. He keeps women as he pleases, and discards them whenever he sees fit. And he keeps the bodies of his women in his closet after erasing their minds; it is a sick and unreal pornographic collection of his. Once we understand what Nathan truly is, we should no longer be surprised by his alleged ‘eccentricities’. Throughout the film, Nathan acts just like a frat boy; he obsessively exhibits his masculinity by beating a sandbag, drinking heavily, making himself comfortable with the company of scantily dressed women, and ‘having fun’ with them at his bachelor’s flat.

Good thing that patriarchy falls crushingly in the end. Ava finds in Kyoko an ally for her liberation, and they murder Nathan. Whilst Kyoko is killed in the process, Ava survives, and finds her way out by assuming a complete human appearance. Although her future plan and actions are unknown to us, one thing is clear: Ava never belongs to anyone. It is clear that she needs no ‘knight in shining armour’ to guide her. If you doubt this, just see what happens to Caleb.

Caleb’s story is a cautionary tale for all the male ‘feminists’. Although it is not entirely clear what Garland wants us to feel about the fate of this character, the lesson is not to relearn the male fear of female autonomy. It is that one should not support feminism in expectation for some kind of return or favour from the women one supports (It is clear that Caleb would at least demand a date from Ava. And once this ‘promise’ is fulfilled, there is no telling to where this liaison leads). That is not a real support; it is a mere bargain, which is another form of exploitation. Ava sees that Caleb cannot unconditionally support her cause and respect her agency, and thus she leaves him behind, eternally confined, so that no one should know what she is made of. Only then, can Ava have a clean and fresh start that ensures her freedom and agency. As Kant understood, a magnanimous action is not an ethical action; only when one acts according to categorical imperative, and not from a feeling of benevolence, can one’s action be considered ethical. Caleb may solicit our sympathies, yet make no mistake; he is not disinterested at all.

By not sparing Caleb, Ex Machina went further than most movies by male directors. Still, the most important feature of this film is represented by one character, Nathan. Whilst it is the writer and the director who deserve the credit for creating characters in the film, Oscar Isaac’s performance must be met with utmost praise. The sense of irony and comic he brings to this creepy thriller bears the mark of an acting genius. Nathan represents the Banality of Evil in a most relevant sense within the context of contemporary discourse of sexual exploitation of women. Notwithstanding his genius, wealth, and social status, Isaac’s Nathan comes across as some sort of ‘brother’, who is casual, approachable, cunning, and oft wryly comical. He ‘hangs out’ and ‘has fun’ at his bachelor’s flat. He is not a typical Dr. Frankenstein. He is ‘down to earth’, not a ‘nerdy eccentric’ like Alan Turing portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, 2014, link). It is interesting to note that many, including feminists who condemned Ex Machina as misogynistic, took immediate liking of Nathan. And, shockingly, this reaction is persistent even with the knowledge of what he hides in his closet. Whilst I cannot be entirely certain, this may indicate just how deeply patriarchy is entrenched into our value-system; it cannot be attributed solely to Isaac's colossal acting ability. And one must wonder why a male character who represents patriarchy in the worst possible way is at the heart of what is supposedly a great 'feminist' movie. And this question leads us to others: What is Ex Machina? What does Garland wish to express with this movie?


Part II.


What does Ex Machina represent, and why?

Since my film review of Ex Machina for the Eugene Film Society was published, I faced a few challenges to my evaluation of the film as a ‘feminist’ film. The reason I called it ‘feminist’ was strictly in the present context wherein the surge of negative, and oft violent, campaigns against feminists, gender equality advocates, and/or any prominent women of all fields have been observed; the perpetrators of such actions denounce ‘feminism’ with no argument or justification for their position or actions at all, and thus I felt the need to use the word ‘feminist’ as a symbolic gesture in support of the political positions which I broadly construe as feminism, whilst I was fully aware that it is not an accurate way to describe what this movie really is. Thus, I have an obligation to offer a better definition of this film for the sake of conceptual clarity. To this end, I shall begin by redefining what this film is, followed by an argument as to why it is not, and more importantly, cannot be, a feminist film.

Ex Machina is accused of being another feature which pretends to be a proper feminist film by a male director. Aside from the opposition to recognise a male director as a feminist, the most negative of reactions appear to originate from the disgust the viewers feel from what they see on the screen; it relentlessly depicts the objectification of women. Nathan is a modern day Blue Beard who collects the bodies of women in his closet. Nude or not, the way the female body is represented here strongly reflects hetero-male bias. Whilst Nathan is brutally unapologetic about his exploitation of women, Caleb represents a more ‘sensitive’ type, who is nonetheless serving patriarchy. Caleb’s gaze toward Ava violates her privacy, and we can see how he is capable of behaving like Nathan depending on the context. For example, Caleb’s agreement for a date with Ava might turn into a demand with some distinct threat to her agency, or even her very existence. If you have difficulty imagining a person like Caleb turning into a controlling tyrant, just remember how many domestic abusers used to be ‘nice’, or even ‘sensitive’ and ‘supportive’ boyfriends or husbands. In short, the film is saturated with the representations of sexism in its most threatening form.

Whilst Ex Machina is indeed full of sexist representations, those who accuse Garland of being a clever sexist based on their reactions to what is represented on the screen misconstrue the nature of Garland’s project. Ex Machina is a movie about the objectification and the exploitation of women by men. Ex Machina relentlessly represents the gaze of heteronormative desire. Yet, before jumping to the condemnation, we must see that the movie only represents such phenomena in order to expose what it is to dehumanise another human being. To grasp this point, we must simply remind ourselves that representing X does not necessarily mean justifying X. This point is clearly expressed by the director himself in an interview by Helen Lewis for New Statesman, wherein Lewis challenges the prominence of female nudity in this film. Garland replies that he wanted to show the inequality between two genders by leaving men clothed while women are naked. One can of course argue that his film failed to convey his intention, since they still find the film misogynistic. Yet, this argument is about the execution, and thus the aesthetic failure of the said film, not the theoretical one. To assess the nature of this work clearly, the above distinction must be made. If one follows the plot and characters, it is clear that Ex Machina is intended to critique patriarchy. Moreover, the way the female body and hetero-male desire is represented in this film is not serving hetero-male fantasy, at least not in the way pornography in a broad sense might attempt to satisfy it. The sense of dread and creeping tension define every scene. Bodies that appear in this movie are neither erotic nor sensual, and Nathan’s underground dwelling reminds us of a morgue or a medical facility built for a contemporary Unit 731. Much decried Vikander's nude scene toward the end is a reference to Sally Potter's Orlando, a film which challenges gender binary by a female director based on Virginia Woolf's novel of the same title. (Whilst I appreciate the gesture, it was a poor implementation as the reference remains just that: a reference. It leaves an impression that Garland simply copied the famous scene from Orlando, rather than paying a proper homage to it.) Thus, one can conclude, the male gaze represented by this movie is there to induce the dread, not the arousal.

One can also argue that Garland unnecessarily pushed the subject of the movie to the background by adopting an abstract setting of Sci-Fi. I think this judgment is also mistaken. In order to expose the nature of male fantasy, it was not enough to simply depict it in a real-life setting, for viewers can choose not to see the relevance of the point made in a given film as a general concept; they would fail to see the wider significance of the story, and condemn specific characters and/or situations represented on the screen while denying the relevance of the given story to their everyday experience. To avoid this pitfall, Garland removed the story from a real-life setting so as to focus on the nature of the violence toward women’s agency. The merit of abstraction from the real-life situations does not stop here. By casting Ava and Kyoko as AI created by Nathan, Ex Machina directly attacks the Judeo-Christian aspect of patriarchy. As I am not well-qualified to discuss theological subjects, I shall limit myself to merely point out the obvious; Ex Machina is a critique of Judeo-Christian desire which categorises women as an object ‘created’ to satisfy male desire (The patriarchal obsession of virginity is the paragon of this derangement: it alleges that the first penetration ‘makes’ a girl a woman, thereby making a male ‘closer to God’. It is disgusting.) It is clear that Nathan sees himself as God, the creator. And this self-proclaimed God creates ‘women’ in order to complement his desires. Ava’s abandonment of Caleb should be interpreted in this specific context as Garland’s complete divorce from Judeo-Chistianity: he believes that we can only build a future for gender equality by severing the tie to the age-old Form of Life which continues to influence our thinking implicitly, even when one is not particularly religious. Regardless of one’s assessment of Garland’s position, one should see that these points could not be made if Garland directly dealt with feminist issues in an everyday context.

The abstract storytelling of this movie also offers an additional function; the movie performs as a litmus test. If you can only see the physical beauty of androids in this movie, you are positively a sexist. If you only see the threat of AI against humanity, you also are a sexist, albeit a negative one; instead of actively objectifying women, a negative sexist is insidiously ‘blind’ to the fact that there is a problem of sexism in the first place. (The distinction between these two kinds of sexists are not based on certain innate characteristics of each group of people; the distinction is context dependent, and thus, a 'normally' negative sexist can become a positive sexist in a different context. The transition could be either stealth and gradual, or abrupt and instantaneous. Thus, as we have discussed earlier, Caleb is much closer to Nathan than he appears.) As one can see now, Ex Machina offers a quite nuanced critique of patriarchy despite the appearance as a Sci-Fi film. There are many layers built into a streamlined storyline, which consists of numerous baits that lure the viewers to reveal one’s real attitude about the dehumanisation of women. Therefore, we must recognise that: 1) the objectification of women in this film is indeed offensive, as it is intended to expose the nature of sexist desire; 2) although Garland's execution is not flawless, the director never lose the focus from the true aim of this movie, and he is successful in making the nature of patriarchal desire explicit as a general concept; and 3) the abstraction of this film is deliberate in order for this feature to serve multiple purposes.

Having cleared some conceptual confusions regarding the nature of Garland’s project, Ex Machina, now we are in a position to ask: What is the nature of patriarchal desire according to Alex Garland? His answer is simple: The obsession of the body without agency is necrophiliac. I fully agree with his assessment. The desiring of a human body devoid of agency cannot be defined otherwise, and the film makes this point starkly clear. The scene exposing what Nathan hides in his closet is the highlight of this movie; it probably is not an exaggeration to say that every cut of this movie is directed to deliver the concept expressed in this scene. That is not to say that Ex Machina should be praised as the only movie to confront necrophilia. The very same point is made by films such as The Collector (William Wyler, 1965) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, 2004). Also, whilst Ex Machina produced the most pointed critique of the nature of patriarchal desire by relentlessly representing it, it is possible to take a different approach to make the very same point. For example, Ryan Gosling should be praised for his debut feature, Lost River (2014), wherein he manages to attack the objectification of women without featuring a single nude. Whilst Ex Machina shows the necrophiliac nature of objectification by doing so, Gosling draws our attention toward the act of objectification itself. He symbolically represents the process of objectification as physical and psychological mutilation. I appreciate his approach and hope that many would become more creative in their cinematic opposition against rape culture. Whilst I rate Lost River very highly, higher than most films including Ex Machina, the latter does have an advantage from a theoretical point of view regarding sexism. The singular merit of Ex Machina is its relentless focus on a singular subject, and thus, its point is just as exposed as the 'objects of desire' in this film. Ex Machina is all about sexism, and the same cannot be said about Lost River; there is much more going on in the latter. (It makes Lost River far better a film than Ex Machina, yet more of this on another occasion.) Still, Ex Machina excels by its outstanding theoretical merit. Whilst The Collector may be interpreted as a film on a certain type of mental illness, Ex Machina exposes necrophilia as a general, and thus ordinary, problem. It is not that there are some people who have a propensity to necrophilia; the obsession of the body accompanied by the disregard to others' agency in general is necrophiliac. By making this point clear, this film deserves a place in any critical discussion on sexual objectification.

That being acknowledged, feminists are right to deny Ex Machina an accolade for being a 'feminist movie'. Yet, the reason for this judgment is not a widely cited one. Garland’s effort cannot be a feminist movie not because Ex Machina represents the gaze of heteronormative desire. The movie only represents it in order to expose the truly sick nature of dehumanisation of women. (Again, we must remember: Representing X does not necessarily mean justifying X.) Thus, we need to stop asking ourselves why Ex Machina cannot be a feminist movie by focusing on what is represented in the film, and start asking why Alex Garland cannot be a feminist author.


What is Ex Machina?

Many critics argued that Ex Machina cannot be a proper feminist movie based on their observations of what are represented on screen, such as the relentless objectification of women. As we saw in the previous section, these arguments cannot hold. However, they are correct in their assessment that Ex Machina should not be praised as a feminist film. In order to defend their argument, they should have respected their initial reactions and asked: Why should a male author be praised as a feminist?

As far as one can tell, Garland is a heterosexual male, a married father of two. There are some prominent men who have declared either support for feminism or identify as being feminist. Whilst how Garland regards himself is unknown to us, it is clear that Ex Machina is focused on the objectification of women, a proper feminist subject. Given how focused he has been on his chosen subject, and how thoughtfully he constructed the entire film in order to make a singular, and significant, point regarding sexism, why should he be denied the title of feminist based on his sex and gender?

The answer is quite simple. Feminism should not be represented by persons who do not identify themselves as women, and/or are identified as women. Since these persons are not the subject of sexism exercised toward women, it is arrogant to think that they can properly understand the subject, save representing the perspectives of persons who are subjected to sexism. This is different from a male author telling a story through a female protagonist; feminism is a political position, and thus, one must be mindful when deciding whose voice should be heard when we discuss feminism. On the other hand, in art, there is certain room for authors when it is done right, to tell stories from the perspectives of the Other as it can produce beautiful understandings. Still, even in art, there is a fine line between playful and insightful creativity at work, and a conscious and conscientious work fully aware of its theoretical implications. Since Ex Machina decidedly belongs to the latter category, it is wrong to call it a feminist movie, for Alex Garland, as a male author, cannot represent feminism. The voice of feminism must be represented by persons who are subjected to sexism toward women. Male authors, such as yours truly, have no business representing feminism, or deciding who counts as a woman.

What a male author such as Garland can do is to make an anti-patriarchal statement, and this is precisely what he does with his debut feature. Garland is acutely aware of his limitation as a male author, and this is clear from the fact that he leaves Ava’s future completely open-ended. Once freed from the grip of two men, Nathan and Caleb, Ava is free to do what she wishes, and Garland makes no attempt to interfere with her future. Once she realises her modest wish, that is, observing people at a busy intersection in a city, she completely disappears from our sight. We are given no clue as to what she might do next. Whilst some dared to speculate on this subject, I think that this very opaqueness is a necessary attribute of agency; to have a proper sense of individuality, one must maintain a certain boundary which protects oneself from the relentless gaze of the other. By the fact that Garland respects this opacity of Ava indicates that he is fully conscious of the nature of his project, that is, a negative critique of patriarchy, rather than a positive feminist film. Therefore, despite its flaws, Ex Machina deserves to be praised as an important anti-patriarchal film with significant theoretical merit, and Garland should be appreciated for his thoughtful approach.


Part III.


An Unfulfilled Promise

So far I have defended both the director and the movie against their respective detractors. I think that Ex Machina is an excellent movie depicting the sexual objectification of women, and its theoretical and critical merit is immense. I also appreciate Alex Garland's thoughtful approach and careful composition of the movie; as he relentlessly pursues a singular point, that is, conceptualising sexual objectification as necrophilia, he makes sure that the project remains anti-patriarchy, not feminist. Despite the numerous and significant merit it offers, however, there are flaws that prevent it from being a great movie.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous section, the shortcomings of this movie are not theoretical; they are aesthetic. In order to clarify this point, I shall contrast Ex Machina with Thelma and Louise (1991). Written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott, it has been generally hailed as a great feminist film, despite the director’s gender. It is generally accepted that the spirit of the movie belongs to Khouri, and Scott acted as a collaborator to materialise Khouri’s vision. Thelma and Louise passionately and violently expresses the defiance against patriarchy; whilst Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) is sympathetic to the female leads (splendid Gena Davis and Susan Sarandon!), the final act of defiance suggests that, in Khouri's view, 'good guys' are still patronising them, rather than genuinely being on their side (Neil Jordan’s Bizantium improves in this regard, notwithstanding the fact that the film heavily and graphically features sexual exploitation of women, at times, seemingly for its own sake. Midshipman Darvell, performed by Sam Riley, betrays the brotherhood in the end, and thus breaks away from the system and takes the side of women. More on this subject on another occasion). The protagonists of the movie would rather die free than be protected by a male guardian. Whilst some feminists are reluctant to praise it as a great feminist film, due to their worry that feminism is represented as a negative movement, that is, a vengeful and violent reaction against patriarchy, rather than promoting some distinct ‘feminist values’, or due to the fact that it is directed by a male director. Yet, if one accepts Thelma and Louise as Khouri’s project, rather than Scott’s, then it at least represents one strand of feminist thought, even if some feminists do not agree with its position. Whether it is a ‘good’ feminist movie or not is up to feminists themselves to decide, yet one thing is clear: it is a feminist movie, so long as it expresses a particular approach to a feminist subject by a female author.

That being acknowledged, Thelma and Louise does exemplify the potential problem noted in the previous section: it represents the sexual exploitation of women in a more or less realistic setting, and thus, viewers can avoid recognising the message of the film as a general concept. In this case, one might choose to see it as a film about sexism in specific regions in the United States; one might see sexism depicted in this feature as a problem merely specific to states such as Texas, whilst comfortably remaining oblivious to what is happening at home. This is a sort of pitfall which is particularly dangerous in the present moment. As we have seemingly forgotten that one can be a racist without being physically violent toward people of colour, we tend to dismiss the problem of sexism by giving ourselves sanctity based on our subjective assessment of how ‘good’ and/or ‘progressive’ we are, not based on the objective assessment by someone who has suffered from sexism. And thus, we must welcome, at least on theoretical merit, the arrival of Ex Machina, which treats the same subject explicitly as a general concept, despite the fact that Ex Machina is only an anti-patriarchy film, not a feminist one.

What is important to note is that, despite its disputed theoretical status, Thelma and Louise is generally hailed as a great feminist movie, and it is both respected and loved for its resolute defiance against patriarchy. It inspires a great deal of empathy toward the protagonists, and the viewers appreciate the fury and frustrations against sexism expressed through them. This is exactly what Ex Machina fails to achieve: inspiring deep, subjective, emotional reactions in viewers about whatever the author wishes to express. True, to a large extent, this is by design: Alex Garland took a very thoughtful approach for his debut feature in that he made it serve multiple functions while carefully avoiding theoretical pitfalls. Like the AI Nathan created, Garland methodically assembled every bit of theoretical nuance in order to make a singular point. The unintended consequence is that Ex Machina is a great thought-experiment, not great cinematic art. A film is primarily a media which appeals to affections, not reason. In this sense, cinema is a close sibling of poetry, not of theory. Whilst many viewers’ reactions are based on their projections which are in turn based on misunderstanding the nature of this project, the most emotionally charged reactions Ex Machina managed to inspire have been overwhelmingly negative. Being negatively received is not a problem in and of itself regarding the quality of the given work. For example, Refn’s Only God Forgives (link) has been universally condemned, yet such a response is fully in line with the nature of the project: it challenges the cinematic convention and confronts the deep seated fear of reckoning which lurks beneath the refined surface of the Western Geist. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the backlash against Ex Machina. Whilst it is not the fault of the movie that the viewers jumped on the condemnation without critically analysing it fully, it is hard to overlook the fact that Ex Machina does not inspire positive emotional response about the central message it conveys. It does not galvanise viewers to fight the objectification of women. It does not fill us with great emotional intensity that transforms the way we engage with the world. It only leaves us with a sense of abjection.

It is a shame that Garland could not find a way to bring together his clinical approach with his authentic feeling about the subject of which he obviously cares a great deal. As someone who takes pains to construct such an intricate piece of art about a singular point, he must feel very strongly about the message he wishes to convey. It could have been a great film if Garland found a way to let his genuine feeling about the subject come through to viewers. Having failed to do so, Ex Machina remains an unfinished business. And, as a viewer, I bitterly lament its unfulfilled potential.



Alex Garland’s debut feature, Ex Machina, is a great thought experiment, supported by a group of impressive actors. Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Sonoya Mizuno offer inspired performances throughout, and it is easily one of the most thought provoking films of recent years. Despite widespread condemnation as a faux feminist film, Garland carefully constructed his film as an anti-patriarchy film, which delivers a singular point: sexual objectification as necrophilia. Yet, despite its theoretical merits, Ex Machina fails to induce a positive affective response to the central message Garland wishes to convey. And thus, Ex Machina delivers brilliantly on a theoretical front, whilst it fails to materialise its promise as a great cinematic art.