Ex Machina: Where Did the Deus Go?

Couldn’t help but think of deus ex machina when the movie Ex Machina came out this year. This is an appropriate connection to the movie because so much of Garland’s movie is about playing God. Deus ex machina is Greek and literally means “god from the machine” because in ancient Greece, actors portraying gods were literally brought down with machines onto the stage. Nowadays, deus ex machina is referred to as a plot device used to suddenly resolve a conflict by the intervention of something new (a new character, a shiny bright object, perhaps new information or ability). To break out of dictionary terms: you’ll know it’s deus ex machina when you see that the conflict is resolved in a WTF-that’s-so-random way.


This movie is a classic tale of man’s love-hate relationship with technology through its play on deus ex machina. In the beginning, we see Caleb arrive at Nathan’s sanctuary in a helicopter. In the end we see Ava leaving this sanctuary/cage of hell in a helicopter. It’s important to note that Caleb works with computers and it’s implied that he is a developer. As far as imagery goes, we have someone who literally plays God by creating worlds with his finger tips and keyboard. Thus we have our first glimpse of deus ex machina except we don’t know it until we think about the whole movie at the end. What does Caleb actually resolve? At first it would appear to be the Turing test given to Caleb by Nathan. However, the real resolution is actually more more about achieving Ava’s freedom. Nathan’s beautiful home was portrayed as a sanctuary until we realize that it’s a sexist hell for his AI robots. Because the robots are caged without the permission to step outside, we see a bit of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. We know this is an allusion because Ava ascension up into the outside world where there is light and warmth is a scene of enlightenment. Despite having the BlueBook as an OS, the AI’s appreciation of fresh air and sun seems to say that all the knowledge from technology can’t capture the experience of cherishing the simple pleasures.

If being free is what Ava was after, why did Ava have to leave Caleb to die? Clearly, this was a statement about technology’s betrayal. But who was really betrayed? When we think about Ava’s origin and how she was enslaved by her creator, we realize that the betrayal is not with the machines but rather, with ourselves. I/O.


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