Film Analysis For Techne Showcase: The Final Scene in “Ex-Machina” *big spoilers*

Ex Machina (2014) - IMDb

Ex Machina was released in 2015 and was directed by Alex Garland. The philosophical film explores the potential implications of fully conscious artificial intelligence. The movie follows a week in the life of AI fanatic and computer scientist Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) and his short-term intern Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac). Nathan was selected to perform the Turing test on one of Caleb’s newest robots, Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). This is particularly exciting to Nathan considering this is the first conscious robot he’s encountered. Early on in the movie Ava tells Nathan that if she could leave the room she’s existed in since her creation, she would stand in a “busy pedestrian and traffic intersection in a city,” (00:40:00). She explains that this is because it would allow her to observe “a concentrated but shifting view of human life,” (00:40:30). Ava’s goal is to escape captivity and live among other conscious human beings. At the very end of the film Ava escapes. She is finally able to live out her dream of standing in a traffic intersection.

There are no words in this final scene of the film (1:42:04-1:42:49 in the full movie or 3:00-3:31 in the YouTube clip ). There is a simple chime-like instrumental in the background. The scene starts off with a blank sidewalk intersection but it quickly fills with people; some walking alone, some walking in groups, some holding hands. The point of view is Ava’s. However, the scene begins upside down so that people’s shadows are upright and are the focal point of the frame. Then Ava’s shadow comes into frame. Her shadow stands still for a few seconds. The frame then shifts to a close-up of Ava’s actual face. She looks around the crowded street inquisitively. She then walks out of frame and merges with the rest of the bustling city. 

This is one of the most powerful moments in the film. The continuity from beginning to end allows the audience to visualize Ava’s dream of “people-watching” in the city. The lack of speech and eerie instrumental create an uneasy yet adventurous ambiance. The shadowy silhouettes add an unsettling element of mystery. When Ava’s face comes into frame she looks no different than anyone around her due to her realistic exterior, which was made to perfectly mimic that of a female human. It is clear by her facial expressions that she is equally overwhelmed, curious, and excited about her new life outside Caleb’s laboratory. Ava’s exit out of the frame marks the end of her life as a lab-rat and the beginning of her unpredictable journey of living among other humans. This scene is not only symbolic of the start of a new life for Ava, but also symbolizes that conscious AI is indistinguishable from a conscious human.

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1 Comment

  1. Holland,
    This is superbly written. I especially appreciate the prose in the final paragraph. The use of alliteration and your description of the cinematographer’s use of shadow to create ambiance and a wordless experiential scene is compelling. Your raising the philosophical themes of the film in the beginning brings up an irony. Having a character that represents artificial intelligence taking a Turing test claim their dream is to observe a “concentrated but shifting view of human life.” Isn’t that just about all the rest of us are able to do at any one time?
    Though the film is “spoiled,” it might be worth showing in class in the future. I hope you are keeping up with your techne. I hope you are well.

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