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The Framing of Gods – Ex Machina Film Analysis

Below is the transcript and link for my film analysis of Ex Machina. There are some slight differences in wording, but overall this is accurate to the final video. My full breakdown of this process and my experience is here.

Warning: this video involves major spoilers for Ex Machina.

In Ex Machina, Caleb Smith is a programmer at Blue Book who wins a contest to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman, Blue Book’s CEO. Caleb learns that he is the human aspect in a Turing test, a test that examines the AI of robots. He starts conversing with Ava, Nathan’s latest robot. Caleb uncovers the truth of Nathan and what he is making. In the end, Caleb helps Ava escape. She kills Nathan, leaves Caleb behind to die, and goes into the world, finally free.

During this movie, Caleb and Ava have six official sessions that are part of the Turing test. Every session takes place in Ava’s room, where they are on opposite sides of a glass wall. 

There are many incredible ways that this movie communicates its message. Today I will be focusing on Caleb and Ava’s sessions. Lines, positioning, and reflection show the developing relationship between Caleb and Ava as well as the way they view each other.

First, let’s review these three topics I will use to examine these conversations .

Sitting and standing are very simple, effective ways to communicate power in a conversation. In this movie there are even more specific things the character’s positions represent. When one character is standing and the other is sitting, the one standing is in control of the conversation. When both are standing or sitting, they are equal. Two characters standing shows that they both feel as though they are in control and both of them sitting represents a more casual relationship.

Reflections and lines are prominent in the movie as a whole, even outside of Caleb and Ava’s sessions. When Caleb and Nathan are in the house together, Caleb is often boxed in with lines. The audience sees his reflection more than Nathan’s. Traditionally, mirrors represent moments of deceit, deception, contrast, distortion, and delusion. Nathan hides the truth from Caleb for most of this movie, so every scene with them is full of those ideas. In Caleb and Ava’s sessions, lines and reflections have even more distinct symbolism.

Let’s get into it. First, Session 1. In this session, Ava and Caleb are meeting for the first time. After the title screen, this scene’s first focus is on the sticky note wall in Nathan’s room, which emphasizes the nature of their meeting. They are first and foremost there for business. In the conversation, Caleb is excited and nervous, while Ava is confused given that she has never met anyone other than Nathan. They are both on edge, tense, and uncomfortable with each other.

They are both standing at the beginning of this scene. Both of them are equal in terms of comfort and control, though they believe they are each leading it. Caleb things he is driving the conversation because he is the human in this Turing test. Ava is observing him, which we later learn was probably due more to trying to figure out how she can use him and less because she was enamored by a new human. Ava is mostly shown behind the glass wall, whereas in later sessions the camera will join her on the other side. We see both of their reflections, representing how both of them are changing and how this new situation is challenging them. More specifically it also represents Caleb’s delusional fascination with Ava and the deception Ava is planning for Caleb.

Next, Session 2. A lot of this scene focuses on Ava. The camera rotates around her while she speaks, though Caleb’s reflection is visible almost the entire time. Ava walks around Caleb while Caleb sits still. Ava takes control of this conversation, first with the amount that she talks and then with the power. This is the first time that Ava turns the power off with Caleb in the room. During the main conversation, one of them is always sitting, but as soon as the power is off they both stand. When the power cuts off, Nathan cannot see them. Their awareness of him stifles their ability to talk freely, so when he is gone they are equal.

In Session 3, Ava dresses as a human and asks if Caleb finds her attractive. This is a major turning point in their relationship and Ava’s character. It shows that she has a desire to be human. A large part of this scene focuses on Ava getting dressed, with an occasional shot of Caleb waiting for jer. All these moments of Caleb waiting are shot from Ava’s side of the wall. Similar to how in session 1 we saw Ava through Caleb’s point of view, this time Caleb is shown from Ava’s point of view.

In session 4, Ava cuts the power again. This time, she reveals that it was intentional. This is the most honest scene between them. They are both standing and shown in equal framing. In other scenes, Ava moves a lot, pacing around Caleb. During this conversation, they sit and later stand directly in front of each other. This is a sign of increasing comfort and a more balanced power dynamic

The framing in session 5 changes in one very distinct way – they are both shown over the shoulder of the other. Again, they are both sitting, continuing their casual relationship. Almost every time one of them is focused on, the other character’s shoulder is also in frame. At this point, their relationship is developing past friendly or studious conversation. Caleb knows now that things are not what he thought. He wants to help Ava escape. Ava knows that Caleb trusts her and that her plan is working. They are shown entirely through each other’s point of view because this scene is about the ways that they see each other.

In session 6, neither of them sat the entire time. Caleb enters and waits for Ava to cut the power. He is much more blunt with her, not tiptoeing around the topic at all. He then presents his plan for how he will help her escape. Caleb and Ava are equal in this scene and both think they are in control. Caleb has the plan, but Ava is the one who is winning. The glass wall is not emphasized as a means of separation, but rather a reminder of their goal: free Ava.

In the end, Ava and Kyoko kill Nathan, Caleb is trapped in Nathan’s room to die, and Ava takes the helicopter meant for Caleb into the real world. The last scene shows her in an unidentified city, blending in as a human.

This movie uses a lot more techniques, but the most fascinating to me was the changes in Ava and Caleb’s relationship. This is a very well-made movie that keeps the viewer thinking and double-guessing everything said and done the entire time. I was on the edge of my seat. For all the things that are great, the most interesting to me has to be the framing. Each character is manipulating someone else, so the way they interact is massively important. If you have already watched this movie, I encourage you to watch it again and focus on how each character is positioned. If you haven’t seen it already, I apologize for spoiling the entire thing and I beg you to watch it.

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