Ex Machina’s Alternate Ending Explained
Ex Machina, written and directed by science-fiction extraordinaire Alex Garland, is a mind-bending tale of the pitfalls of artificial intelligence and the arrogance of tech developers. The film’s ending presents a bevy of questions regarding the hypothetical relationship between androids and humans, but an alternate ending reveals more about these ideas. Originally, audiences would have experienced how Ava, the robotic humanoid at the center of the plot, identifies and processes the world around her in order to interact with people.
Critics have praised Ex Machina for its complexity and thought-provoking themes, despite its open-ended concepts and lack of concrete conclusions. The film can be read through multiple different lenses pertaining to the role each character plays. The story is as much a commentary about the masculine toxicity of technology programmers as it is about the increasingly speedy arrival of technological singularity. Perhaps the sheer size of the philosophical scope of the film is why Alex Garland chose to omit the original plans to explore Ava’s point of view, thereby leaving the workings of her consciousness more open to interpretation in the final cut.
The completed theatrical version of the film concludes with Ava outsmarting both her creator Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac, and the man who he had chosen to further his experiments with artificial intelligence, Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson. After escaping from her confinement, she kills Nathan, dons human skin and clothes, and leaves a begging and screaming Caleb behind in the locked compound. Ava is last seen approaching the helicopter that was supposed to pick Caleb up, but her conversation with the pilot is not heard.
Ex Machina’s Original Ending
In the finalized conclusion, audiences are left with the haunting idea that as much as humans think they understand robotic life, artificial intelligence has the capacity to surpass natural reasoning. However, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, who plays Ava, revealed in a round-table interview with Den of Geek that initially the film was going to show the android’s interaction with the helicopter pilot from her point of view. The biggest revelation here was that Ava does not have the ability to hear people, but rather interprets human behavior through computations. Vikander explained that Eva and the audience would have seen the pilot’s “face moving” with “pulses and sounds coming out,” and Isaac fleshed out the concept in the following way:
“…you’d see her talking, and you wouldn’t hear, but all of a sudden it would cut to her point of view. And her point of view is completely alien to ours. There’s no actual sound; you’d just see pulses and recognitions, and all sorts of crazy stuff…”
Considering both the praise and criticism that the ending of Ex Machina has garnered, the brief yet significant addition may have heavily changed analyses of the film. The narrative toys with who the main focus is, opening with Caleb and exploring the events through his perspective but ultimately ending with Eva’s liberation. It’s a striking shift in power dynamics, and the alternate ending only serves to highlight the importance of Ava’s journey even more by demonstrating the immense capacity for machines to replace organic beings. Perhaps this is the reason, though, why Alex Garland scrapped this part.
The filmmaker instead chose to blur the line between man and machine more discreetly, allowing the viewer to observe Ava’s human interaction from a clinical distance. Revealing how her programming perceives her external environment deepens the chasm between artificial and natural intelligence. Although it would have made for a creepy indication of Ava’s robotic consciousness, the scene would have also undermined the idea of the merging thought processes and identities between artificial life and its creators. The breaking down of that barrier is what makes the final minutes of Ex Machina both haunting and beautiful.