In fact, the most telling detail of the film's production is writer/director Alex Garland's statement that he wrote the script from Ava's perspective. Not only is her performance impressively subtle (particularly for something which could be as gimmicky as a human pretending to be a robot pretending to be a human), she also strikes me as the most sympathetic character—ironic, considering she's the only one of the three who isn't human.
Science fiction is a genre which has always used aliens, robots, and other inhuman creatures to explore the nature of humanity, and Ex Machina turns this trend on its head. Rather than using Ava as a contrast for the humanity around her (the evil invader cliche) or making her the naive outsider who has to learn what it means to be human (The Day the Earth Stood Still), she's used as a contrast to show the inhumanity of her creator(s). She shows us that the humans in the story are actually the least human—depending, of course, on what you mean by "human". She is the most sympathetic in the sense that her apparent innocence and eventual drive for independence are traits we value; but maybe Nathan's ambition to keep pushing boundaries is actually more human, even if it's not necessarily more desirable.
Nathan's need for control is more insidious than simple scientific rigor. Beyond the idea of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina is also concerned with having a dialogue about sexuality, and the robots Nathan has created are not only female but also overtly sexualized. While the primary text is an examination of man vs machine, the primary subtext is one of man vs woman. This frat house playboy of a character seems more interested in drinking and having sex than in the scientific details of the incredible technology he's created, and the way he treats his machines stretches the boundaries of current notions of objectification. Sure, technically speaking these women are literally objects, but that doesn't mean they deserve to be treated that way. While Nathan exploits them for his own pleasure, the movie shows us that they are much more than their artificial limbs.
A lot of reviewers have been throwing the Kubrick word around with this movie, and while I see some of the similarities (the occasionally cold atmosphere) I'm not sure the comparison totally fits. The movie wasn't quite a perfect experience for me (some of the twists and turns felt a bit contrived), but its thematic intelligence easily made up for any structural weaknesses. It is a movie which not only creates compelling characters, but also uses them to indirectly ask us what it means to be human. It asks us if we would rather be represented by people like Nathan or if creatures like the inhuman Ava are somehow more human. This is true science fiction, and I'm excited to see where Alex Garland will take his talents next.
2015: New Releases