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The Most Pause-Worthy Moments In Ex Machina

When Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" was released in 2014, it made an immediate impact as a sleek, horrifying, sci-fi thought experiment. Starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander, the film follows Nathan (Isaac), a brilliant tech CEO who has created an AI and brought one of his employees, Caleb (Gleeson), to his home to test it. Vikander plays his creation, Ava, who wants nothing more than to escape from Nathan's facility.

Like Garland's similarly ambitious 2018 follow-up "Annihilation," "Ex Machina" asks more questions than it answers, leaving it up to the audience to decide what may have happened after the credits roll. Because Garland is famously anti-sequel, it's extremely unlikely we will ever get to see what occurred once Ava entered the "real world."

But the ending of "Ex Machina" is not the only part of the film that leaves audiences thinking. The film is filled with detailed tech-speak, existential questions about the future of humanity, and some rather disturbing dynamics between humans and AI — all delivered in a break-neck, adult tempo that respects the viewer's (not so artificial) intelligence. 

Which makes it more likely that, watching at home, you might need to pause the movie every now and then in order to wrap your mind around what exactly is transpiring. Accordingly, here are the most pause-worthy moments in "Ex Machina," populated by scenes that demand closer introspection.

Nathan asks Caleb about the Turing test

When Caleb first enters Nathan's remote, high-tech home/research facility, he has no idea why he's there. He starts to get an inkling after Nathan has him sign a long, very detailed contract indicating the proprietary nature of what he's about to see. Then, Nathan asks Caleb if he knows what the Turing test is. Being a computer programmer himself, Caleb answers in the affirmative. In layman's terms, the Turing test is meant to test if an AI can believably exhibit human behavior, thereby passing for human.

At this point, viewers might have some questions about how exactly Nathan plans on administering this test, as does Caleb. If Caleb already knows Ava is an AI, how can he really perform the Turing test? You don't need to wait too long for the answer, because Nathan explains it a few minutes later. 

"The real test," Nathan says, "is to show you that she's a robot, and then see if you still feel she has consciousness." This is a rather roundabout way of administering the Turing test, and, as we later learn, Nathan's not quite being clear about his intentions here. But neither Caleb nor the audience really knows what's happening yet, so we'll have to wait and see how this plays out.

Caleb turns on the TV

Caleb's dwellings in Nathan's facility is something like an underground hotel room, complete with a mini bar, an en suite bathroom, and television. On the first night of his stay, Caleb turns on the TV in his room, and is shocked to find that the only thing playing seems to be a live feed of Ava in her room. 

As he tries to change the channel, he discovers nothing but alternate camera angles of the same room. It's an unsettling moment, made all the more so when Ava seems to look into the camera — right at Caleb. It's at this moment that Ava seems to press something on the wall, which causes the power to go out, casting everything in a red, spectral light. Did Ava cause the power outages, or are we just imagining things? That isn't clear, but it's the first inkling that things aren't quite what they seem.

When the power goes out, Caleb is momentarily trapped in his room, which Nathan tells him is a security measure so the house isn't vulnerable during outages. This turns out to be a key piece of information that will come in handy later. When Caleb walks down the hall after the power comes back on, he passes a row of what appears to be masks, each more lifelike than the next. This mirrors what we see behind Nathan's closet doors later in the film.

Ava shows Caleb her drawing

During their second meeting, Ava shows Caleb a drawing she's made. She holds it up to the glass wall so Caleb can see. 

It's at this moment that you might want to pause for closer inspection because ... what is that? It's drawn all in blacks and grays, and the lines are crisscrossed, creating what looks like a sinewy, mesh-like texture. Has Ava drawn a self-portrait? Is this how she views herself, or is it something more abstract?

As it turns out, Ava doesn't know what she's drawn (or at least, she tells Caleb as much). He asks her what the drawing is, and she says "don't you know?" Caleb replies that he does not, and Ava says "I thought you would tell me." "Don't you know?" Caleb responds. Ava says that she draws every day, but never knows what she's drawing. 

When Caleb suggests that Ava draw something specific, like an object or a person, he tells her he wants to see what she'll choose to draw. Ava accepts the challenge, but then turns the tables on Caleb, asking about his life and saying she wants him to decide where to start. Did the AI just make a joke? This is getting weird.

Is Ava showing emotions?

At her request, Caleb begins telling Ava about his life. He tells her about his job, where he lives, and his family. When he tells her that his parents died in a car crash when he was 15 — Caleb was in the backseat — we get a close-up of Ava's face. Right after he says the word "dead," Ava's facial expression changes drastically – for a robot, at least. 

Because it happens so quickly, you might be tempted to rewind just to catch it again. Alicia Vikander, in the role that made her famous, really sells the moment. Her eyes almost seem to start watering as he describes the details of the crash, even though Caleb himself doesn't appear overly emotional about it.

What does this mean? Is Ava experiencing her first true emotions, or is she just transmitting the feelings she thinks would be appropriate at this moment? One might argue that she is simply mirroring Caleb's emotions, but since Caleb isn't really displaying anything, how can this be true?

Caleb doesn't really seem to take note of the emotional journey Ava goes on here, but maybe that's just an illusion, too. Whether Ava really is "feeling" these emotions or simply performing them for the purposes of manipulation, it's a disconcerting moment worth another look.

The power goes out a second time

While Ava and Caleb are having a conversation, the power goes out a second time — an even clearer indication that Ava is the one causing the power outages. As the room is once again cast in an eerie red glow, Ava uses this opportunity to speak with Caleb, free of the cameras. Her expression changes once again now that Nathan is no longer watching and she looks much more serious, a noticeable change from her usual, cheerfully blank self. "You're wrong," she tells Caleb. "About what?" He asks. "Nathan," she says.

"He's not your friend," Ava tells Caleb. Caleb is perplexed by this, and Ava tells him he shouldn't trust anything Nathan says. Then the power comes back on, and Ava's facial expression and tone of voice switch back to normal (or, whatever "normal" you can expect from her).

This scene might take viewers a moment to wrap their heads around. Can Ava be trusted? Can Nathan? The audience has been given several indications that Nathan is not very trustworthy, but Ava is Nathan's creation, after all. This might be a good moment to pause, re-examine the evidence and re-consider, but don't pause too long — more information is about to be doled out.

Ava's origins are revealed

One evening, supposedly on a whim, Nathan decides to show Caleb the lab where he created Ava. He tells Caleb how he created her facial expressions and how he built her hardware and software — her "brain," if you will. 

Using the power of his company BlueBook (essentially a stand-in for Google), he hacked into all the cell phones of the world in order to generate facial imagery for Ava to draw from in building her own facial dexterity. He also used BlueBook to create Ava's software, mining the raw material from his search engine in order to generate a map not of what people were thinking about, but how they were thinking.

This is a rather frightening prospect, in part because it's not too far removed from the realm of possibility. Companies like Google do have an almost unfathomable amount of raw data compiled from its millions of users, and it can be terrifying to imagine what could be done with it. Not only is Nathan's explanation for how Ava was created an interesting take on the future of tech, it also reveals how Ava is so skilled at simulating human conversation and emotion. She literally has the entire population of the world from which to draw.

Caleb tells Ava a haunting analogy

During one of their conversations — after Ava has dressed herself and put on a wig — Caleb tells her about a thought experiment he learned while taking an AI seminar in college. The story goes that there is a scientist who studies color. She knows every single thing there is to know about color, scientifically and empirically speaking, but she's never been outside, and lives in a totally black and white world. One day, someone knocks on her door. She opens it, and sees the blue sky for the first time. At this moment she learns something no amount of study could have taught her — what color feels like.

The story is meant to illustrate the difference between humans and AI. While AIs understand color scientifically, they live in a black and white world, so to speak. While Caleb is telling this story, we see flashes of Ava's life, all viewed in black and white. Finally, the last of these flashes depicts Ava standing outside for the first time, and everything is suddenly in color.

The most interesting thing about this scene is the expression on Ava's face. Rather than the somewhat blank, passively interested face she usually wears, she seems to become increasingly angry as Caleb is telling her the story. It's like she is suddenly realizing what she has been missing — or, more accurately, what has been kept from her. 

Just after she has this revelation, Kyoko opens her eyes from where she's laying behind Nathan. Caleb tells Ava the real reason he's there, and the power goes out again. Now we know for sure that Ava is causing the power outages. Something big is coming.

Hold on, robots can dance?

It's the scene that launched a thousand .gifs, and arguably the most re-watchable moment in the entire film.

Some time later, Caleb walks into Nathan's room and finds Kyoko there. She starts undressing, believing that's what Caleb wants from her (presumably, that's what she does with Nathan as well, a rather haunting thought). Caleb tries to tell her to stop, when Nathan waltzes in. "I told you, you're wasting your time talking to her," he tells Caleb. "However, you would not be wasting your time, if you were dancing with her."

As if he had planned it all along, Nathan turns on the music, and Kyoko starts dancing — and rather gracefully at that. 

Nathan joins in on this strange, robotic funkiness, and they perform some sort of 1970s-inspired dance routine that they appear to have carefully choreographed. "After a long day of Turing tests, you've gotta unwind," Nathan tells him. Caleb watches them, every bit as perplexed — and transfixed — as the audience. 

There have been many before Ava

When Nathan gets drunk and falls asleep on the couch, Caleb takes the opportunity to steal a key card and get into his office. While there, he looks through his security footage at all the past versions of AIs he's created. The footage he finds is quite disturbing. First of all, he seems to have kept all of the AIs he created naked, even while interviewing them and administering the Turing test. This is made all the more disturbing since we have a pretty good idea what he's been doing with his "companion" AI, Kyoko.

We also see that a number of the AIs resisted Nathan's confinement, with one of them banging so hard against the walls of her room that her arms literally broke into pieces. Caleb then walks into Nathan's room — where he finds Kyoko lying naked on the bed — and opens all the closet doors. Behind each door he finds a different version of Nathan's AIs — all naked, of course. 

Kyoko then reveals what we've long suspected but perhaps Caleb didn't know; she's also an AI. Of course, she does this in probably the most alarming way possible — by pulling back "skin" to reveal her robotic face. There's a lot to unpack here, and things will only get more weird, so buckle up.

Caleb explains his plan

During their final conversation, Caleb explains to Ava his plan for their escape. During another power outage, he tells Ava the details. He's going to get Nathan drunk, take his keycard, and reprogram the security protocols so that Nathan will be locked in his room but the other doors will be open. He then tells Ava that she needs to do one thing: trigger a power failure at precisely 10 o'clock — presumably so they can escape.

This all seems a little too good to be true. Nathan is a literal genius, will he really be fooled by their plan? And can Ava be trusted?

This is a good opportunity to pause the proceedings and consider what you've been told thus far: Ava has been triggering the power outages, which Nathan supposedly doesn't know about. So, she may have the upper hand. But, Nathan brought Caleb here under false pretenses, and only he knows the full extent of his plan. Has Ava become more powerful than her creator, or does Nathan still hold all the cards? Does Caleb have any agency here at all? 

A classic misdirection

Unfortunately for Caleb, Nathan has decided to take a break from drinking, so his plan doesn't quite work. Nathan suggests that Ava has been manipulating Caleb all along, and that she used the torn drawing to illustrate Nathan's cruelty and her love for Caleb. Nathan also reveals that after tearing up Ava's drawing, he placed a battery-powered security camera in the room, in full view of them both. A classic misdirection, he says.

It turns out Caleb was the test, after all. Nathan calls Ava a "rat in a maze," telling Caleb the only way she could get out was through him. She would have to use every tactic in the book — "self-awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, empathy" — in order to escape, which she did. Nathan then reveals he did not select Caleb because of his coding skills, but because of his "search engine inputs." He was the perfect test subject. "The test works. It was a success," Nathan tells Caleb.

But, there's one more twist. When the power goes out at 10:00 like they had planned, Caleb reveals the trick he's pulled on Nathan, telling him he reprogrammed the security protocols yesterday, which means Ava is primed for escape. The faux-secret conversation about their escape plan was another misdirection, it seems. So, Nathan and Caleb have each outwitted each other, but now Caleb has the upper hand. Who will win, in the end? There's only one right answer.

Nathan gets stabbed in the back, literally

After Ava escapes her room for the first time — just as she and Caleb had planned — Nathan finds himself outnumbered. He tells Ava to go back to her room, but Ava and Kyoko just stand there glaring at him defiantly (Ava has just whispered something into Kyoko's ear, although what it is isn't clear). Ava starts sprinting towards Nathan and attacks him, overpowering her and maker, and forcing him to respond by breaking off her arm with a metal rod. He thinks he's got the upper hand, until — much to his surprise — Kyoko ever-so-gracefully slides a knife into his back.

Kyoko turns his head so he's looking directly into his eyes, as Nathan snaps and smashes her jaw with the metal rod. Though there's a chance she could still be alive, it doesn't look good for Kyoko. Nathan, on the other hand, is definitely dead, as Ava stabs him in the chest with the knife shortly thereafter. Take a pause-worthy moment of silence to remember Kyoko, who spent her whole life being used and abused by Nathan. May she rest in peace.

Ava puts on her new skin

After Nathan's (much deserved) death, Ava begins her journey to the outdoor world. First order of business: her appearance. 

Ava opens the door to one of Nathan's closets and finds one of his previous AIs there. She takes off the AI's arms and attaches it to the one Nathan broke off earlier. Then she takes pieces of this other AI's skin and places it over her exposed machinery until she is covered in skin and looks fully human. Next, she finds a white dress she likes and puts it on, completing her transformation. It's a chilling moment, made all the more so by the fact that we really have no firm grasp on Ava's intentions.

Caleb remains locked in the basement as she steps into the elevator, ready to start her new life. She gets into the helicopter, and the audience sees her make it to a busy intersection, just like she told Caleb she would. What will she do now that she's free? We can only guess

Viewers are never given much of an indication on whether she will do "good" or "bad" out there in the world (if an AI even considers things in such a way), although she did just kill a man, so that's slightly disconcerting. If you pause after the moment Ava puts on her new skin to consider what she might do next, you're still not going to find an answer to this question. But that's what imagination is for, right?