What Does 'Ex Machina's Title Mean? Director Alex Garland On The Eerie Film About Artificial Intelligence's Inception
Alex Garland's latest big-screen venture, Ex Machina, might be set in an age when human-like Artificial Intelligence is at the foreground of tech developments, but the themes are oh-so relevant to today. The film surrounds Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive CEO of the world's largest, Google-esque internet company, and the 26-year-old programer he poaches to spend a week at his private mountain retreat. But when Caleb arrives, he realizes he was chosen to participate in testing the world's first true artificial intelligence (AI), an impressive computer system housed inside the robot body of a beautiful woman named Ava. So what does Ex Machina 's title mean?
The title comes from the Greek term "Deus Ex Machina," that has two meanings according to Mirriam-Webster's dictionary. 1 : a god introduced by means of a crane in ancient Greek and Roman drama to decide the final outcome. 2 : a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.
The title works when looking at Isaac's Nathan, who plays god by inventing a type of AI so human-like, she seems to have a mind of her own. But Nathan's attempts to control Ava's world, and her mind, may or may not have dangerous effects. The connection to the second meaning, referencing a surprise or unexpected solution, can only be realized when seeing Ex Machina's chilling third act. And the fact that "machina" closely resembles the word "machine" is likely no coincidence.
Writer/director Alex Garland was inspired — or perhaps frightened — by the current state of technology when he wrote Ex Machina, saying: "The current crop of AI related narratives and public pronunciations of concern, don't come from concerns about AIs directly, it's more to do with privacy issues," writer/director Alex Garland says. "It's more to do with a sense that we have given up a part of ourselves to machines. That we understand less about machines or the tech companies that they know about us, and that makes us feel uneasy. I was trying to acknowledge that in the film."
A sense of uneasiness surrounding modern technology is all too relatable. Think about how much information we pour into our phones: Our home addresses, our phone numbers, our credit card information, our personal photos, and more. For as any citizen of the 21st century knows, once "private" information is offered up to the deities of the internet, there's no back button.
"There's a weird thing that happened. When trying to get this film financed, one of the financiers we showed the script to said, 'Yeah, this is all really good, but this whole thing about tech companies [taking] information from mobile phones is just too ridiculous, they're not going to be doing that," Garland says. "This is true, they really did say that. So I remember thinking, 'You're going to buy this talking robot, but not that tech companies are [taking] private information?' But then Snowden came along and he really did blow the lid off that stuff. And thank god he did, it was a fantastic thing."
See Ex Machina in theaters Friday, April 10. Watch the trailer below: