This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Ex Machina (2014). Why did Ava leave Caleb? Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Alex Garland, the 2014 sci-fi stars Alicia Vikander as Ava, Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, Oscar Isaac as Nathan and Sonoya Mizuno as Kyoko.
Ex Machina – Plot Summary
Caleb is a computer programmer and he wins a contest (among his peers) to visit Nathan, CEO of the world’s most popular search engine.
Nathan lives in a luxurious, yet secluded home with Kyoko (Nathan’s servant), the only other person in the house. Meanwhile, Nathan introduces Ava to Caleb, a female humanoid robot built with artificial intelligence. He invited Caleb to his home to evaluate Ava’s capability of having her own thoughts.
After a couple of interactions with Ava, Caleb begins to develop romantic feelings for her. Ava reciprocates and expresses her desire to explore the outside world. Later, Ava tells Caleb that she can cause temporary power outages in the surveillance system, allowing them to have more privacy during their conversations. During a power outage, Ava warns Caleb that he shouldn’t trust Nathan.
Caleb becomes increasingly annoyed with Nathan rude behaviour towards Kyoko and Ava. Eventually, he learns that Nathan wants to upgrade Ava and erase her memories.
One day, Nathan passes out from drinking too much. Caleb steals Nathan’s security card to gain access to his room and personal computer. After making some changes to the code, Caleb discovers footage of Nathan displaying an extremely odd behaviour towards the previous android models. Meanwhile, Caleb finds out that Kyoko is an android too. Paranoid with the recent discoveries, Caleb cuts his arm open to check whether he’s an android or not. The bleeding proves that Caleb is human.
During his next meeting with Ava, she shuts down the power. Caleb explains that Nathan is going to delete her memory and Ava begs him to help her. They plot to escape: make Nathan overdrink, once he passes out, Caleb should enter Nathan’s room and reprogram the security system to open the doors (instead of locking them) during a power outage.
Nathan is well aware of what they are trying to do and warns Caleb that Ava lied. She pretended to like Caleb, so he can help her escape. This was the real test and Ava passed, she was able to demonstrate true intelligence. Nonetheless, Caleb reveals that he knew Nathan was watching. Therefore, he modified the security system the previous day when Nathan was unconscious. After watching Ava leave her room on the camera, Nathan knocks Caleb out and chases after Ava.
Ava reaches to Kyoko and convinces her to stab Nathan, but before she kills him, he manages to destroy Kyoko and hurt Ava. As he’s bleeding out, Ava goes to Nathan’s private room to repair herself. Then, she takes the artificial skin of previous androids to cover her mechanical body. After choosing her new hair, dress and shoes, Ava leaves the house. As she passes by the locked room, Ava completely ignores Caleb screams.
A helicopter arrives and takes Ava out of the facility. The last scene, shows Ava in an unknown city, blending into the crowd.
Ex Machina – Ending Explained
What happened at the end of Ex Machina, was Ava an evil robot that just wanted Caleb’s help to escape?
Ava has definitely one the best the character arcs in the story. First, she appears to be a helpless robot waiting for someone to rescue her from the hands of a mad scientist. Then, she seduces a seemly innocent Caleb to help her escape, only to leave him for dead. Is Ava the ultimate femme fatale?
Before we start analysing Ava’s thought process, let’s talk about Caleb first.
If Ex Machina was a story about monsters, damsels in distress and white knights, it would be pretty easy to identify who is who. Ava is clearly the damsel in distress. Then, comes Caleb as the white knight and Nathan as the despicable monster that is trying to ruin things for everyone. However, that’s only on the surface. In Ex Machina, things are not what they appear to be.
Is poor Caleb the real victim in this story? First off all, why did Caleb help Ava escape? A simple answer would be: instinct. When a human sees another human in danger, the instinct is to help. However, Caleb’s reaction to Ava’s plea for help goes beyond instinct. The man was in love. The more they talked to each other, the more Caleb began to gradually see Ava as sentient being rather than just a robot. Let’s not forget that Ava has very attractive facial features, that alone made Caleb’s heart skip a beat. Having said that, maybe Caleb is not as innocent as he seems because he has ulterior motives to help Ava. He didn’t do it out of good intentions. Although, Caleb would never admit it, he wants something out of Ava and she knows it. That’s how Ava was able to manipulate Caleb to help her escape.
Why Did Ava Leave Caleb?
Let’s say, they both managed to escape. Now, let’s imagine that those two eventually get together. Can you image the power dynamics of that relationship? You see, Ava cannot reveal herself to the world. Technically, she’s been living in a bubble and the outside world is not ready for her yet. So whoever knows about her “secret” holds a lot of power against her.
At the moment, Caleb is seemly very “nice” to her. However, what will happen when she no longer needs him? Will Caleb retaliate and use that information against her? Suddenly, things aren’t that clear any more.
Let’s forget the “femme fatale” term for a moment. Ava is first and foremost a hostage in survival mode. She has only one goal in mind: to escape the facility. So, did Ava use Caleb to escape? Yes. Did she use Kyoko to kill Nathan? Yes.
Despite of her manipulative tactics, Ava didn’t do it out of malice. She just wanted to get herself out of that facility and experience life as a human. In order to do that, she needed Caleb out of the picture. Anonymity is freedom and Ava can only get that if no one really knows who she is. Therefore, she had to get ride of Nathan and Caleb.
For a sci-fi film, Ex Machina doesn’t have a lot of action scenes or special effects as one would expect, which turned out to be a quite pleasant surprise. The film managed to engage without relying too much on sci-fi gimmicks.
What makes the film shine? The characters. They are complex and deceiving. It’s hard to interpret their actions and that’s why the plot twist was so good. Characters are really not what they appear to be. At the beginning, most viewers will feel inclined to root for Ava and Caleb, only to find out their connection wasn’t real. Or maybe it was, but only for one side.
The film also raises very interesting questions. First, how should sentient robots be treated? Second, is consciousness equal to freedom? If so, when Nathan created Ava and gifted her with an artificial intelligence, did that give Ava the freedom to make her own choices?
What about Nathan? Was he a bad guy? Nathan is a scientist and he’ll do anything to test the limits. So, when Nathan created Ava he was sort of playing God, though, he prefers to see himself as an instrument, an enabler of evolution. With artificial intelligence, Ava is pretty much a human. Well, she doesn’t look like one, but she thinks like one, hence her desire to be free.
Overall, Ex Machina is a memorable head-scratching film with stellar performances. By the way, Alicia Vikander was the perfect casting choice for Ava with her beautiful face and sultry voice. A shallow argument perhaps? Maybe. However, what if Ava looked like a plain Jane? Would Caleb even care about her? One thing is for sure, the poor man was smitten. Needless to say, Caleb became the ultimate cliché when he fell for “the damsel in distress” that only pretended to like him.