What makes Ex Machina’s Ava so human

What makes Ex Machinas Ava so human

Maddie DePree

Boy meets girl. Girl is a robot. Boy likes girl anyway.

To be clear, “Ex Machina” is no romantic comedy, or even a romantic film. But the romantic tension between Caleb and humanoid robot, Ava, fantastically showcases her human qualities.

Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a young programmer who wins his company lottery to spend a week with the boss, Nathan, creator of a Google-esque search engine called Bluebook. Oscar Isaac brilliantly acts the role of the rich inventor, delivering the occasional one-liner and frequently blacking out drunk during Caleb’s weeklong stay.

Nathan quickly drops the bomb that, surprise: his vast estate isn’t just his house, but a research facility. Enter Ava, his newest experiment, a female humanoid with impeccable artificial intelligence. Caleb’s real job during his vacation is testing Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. Nathan wants Caleb to decide whether her artificial intelligence could pass for human.

Vikander’s performance is flawless, but whether Ava fully embodies human nature is up to the viewer. Check out her most human moments and see if she passes the test.

She acts childlike.

The audience, and Caleb, love to love the vulnerable. Ava is far from childlike in physique, but her body language – knees pulled to the chest, hands curled into sleeves, face peering around corners – evokes the same caring response from viewers. When Caleb asks how old she is, Ava responds, “I’m one.” He laughs and asks, “One day, one year, or…?” She repeats “I’m one,” with the same toddler-like stubbornness. Director Alex Garland helps, too. In scenes where Ava is alone, he plays tinkly music similar to nursery songs in the background.

She dresses up.

Nathan confines Ava to a glass room during all hours of the day, but she has a closet full of clothes and wigs to soften her mechanical edges. On Caleb’s third visit, she puts on stockings, a dress and a cardigan. She even picks a soft brown wig about the length and texture of a toddler’s hair to cover her inhuman cranium. On his fourth visit, she’s already picked out a new outfit complete with earrings. Worrying about appearance, especially in front of another person, adds to Ava’s human credibility.

She makes art.

Ava’s sketches are robotic in construction, made of precisely placed dots and lines, but they reflect sentimentality. At first, she shows Caleb a drawing similar to a mandala and he asks what it is. She says, disappointed, “I thought you would know.” He asks, “You don’t?” and she replies that she never knows what she’s drawing. He suggests that she try to draw something specific. She draws a picture of the garden in her room and a picture of Caleb’s face. Her intentions with these drawings are up for debate, but thoughtful creation of art is unique to humans.

She wants out.

Any conscious being that’s stuck inside all day wants to break free. Ava is no exception. While her dream destinations are a bit odd (above all, she wants to visit a busy traffic intersection), she constantly thinks about the outside world. Today’s comparatively basic robots aren’t concerned with the feeling of grass and sunshine, but an advanced model like Ava longs for freedom as any living creature would.


Go see “Ex_Machina,” in theaters now, and try to pinpoint Ava’s humanity. As the posters said, “There is nothing more human than the will to survive.”