Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" (2015). A Posthuman Portrayal of Sexist and Racial Biases

Term Paper, 2020

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Gendered and Raced Androids in Ex Machina
2.1 Issues of Representation in Mainstream Cinema
2.2 The Posthuman Female
2.3 The Patriarch
2.4 The Female Asian Servant
2.5 Dismantling the Patriarchy?

3. Conclusion

4. Works Cited

1. Introduction

With advancing technology, artificial intelligence continues to be portrayed in literature and visual culture, affecting our current and future views of the human, as well as those of “the posthuman”. This subject is “the figure” of Critical Posthumanism, a theoretical approach trying to discuss the question “what it means to be human” and functioning “like an anamnesis and a rewriting of the human and humanism” (Herbrechter n.p.). One of its key components, as Rosi Braidotti points out, is to question the traditional view of Humanism, which places a European, male and white ideal at the core of the universe (cf. Braidotti in Veronese 97). Thus, in this paper, I will analyse the representation of the gendered and raced androids in Alex Garland’s science-fiction dystopia Ex Machina (2015), providing a close reading through a feminist lens, and critically reflecting upon the construction of their posthuman identities in a gendered and raced human-like body. I argue that, even though the film may have some subversive aspects regarding its representation of patriarchal power structures, it fails to dismantle certain sexist and racial stereotypes, but instead contributes to their solidification by assigning them to the posthuman subject. This visual portrayal of discrimination against women and especially non-white women in a system that privileges men and white people is not only a reflection of prevalent socio-cultural and political conditions, but also the cinematographic result of the white patriarchal system itself, whether it be with regard to the film’s literary design as well as its mise-en-scène and cinematography. In order to prove my point, I will rely on Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975), extending it to the representation of racial difference, since “gender intersects with race, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities” (Butler 4).

2. The Gendered and Raced Androids in Ex Machina

2.1 Issues of Representation in Mainstream Cinema

In order to understand the issues that will be explained hereafter, Benshoff and Griffin emphasise that “[i]mages of people on film actively contribute to the ways in which people are understood and experienced in the ‘real world’” (3). Films are, as well as books or other media, texts that transmit information, “carrying the ideological messages of both its authors and the culture that produced it” (ibid. 14). The prevalent socio-cultural system in Western society is coined by white patriarchal power structures, leading to an oppression of the “structuralist others”, speaking in terms of Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of Structuralism1. Hence, “most Hollywood Films (throughout its history and still today) encode white patriarchal capitalism as central and desirable via both Hollywood narrative form and the invisible style” (ibid. 25). Thus, under white patriarchal capitalism, white privilege as well as male dominance prevail in classical mainstream cinema narratives, leading to stereotypical and oppressing representations of non-male and non-white people.

An influential feminist essay on the ways how mainstream narrative cinema portrays women on screen was published by feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey in 1975. In this essay, titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, she explains how visual pleasure in classical Hollywood cinema is created for its spectators, basing her arguments on the concepts of Psychoanalysis2. Her main argument is that classical Hollywood cinema is shaped by patriarchy and heteronormativity. She writes about “the way film reflects, reveals and even plays on the straight, socially established interpretation of sexual difference which controls images, erotic ways of looking and spectacle” (Mulvey 833), drawing upon the concepts of narcissism and voyeurism. As Benshoff and Griffin point out: “Narcissism, a pleasure of the self, is created when narrative cinema encourages spectators to identify with characters in the film. […] [V]oyeurism is a visual pleasure that arises from looking at others in a sexualised way” (242), especially while they do not realise that they are being watched. She claims that those who do the looking and experience visual pleasure are overwhelmingly men. They are able to, on the one hand, identify in a narcissistic way with the male protagonist and, on the other hand, feel voyeuristic pleasure, as the women on screen are “simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.” (Mulvey 837). In short, “men are positioned as the ones in control of the gaze while women are positioned as the objects of that controlling gaze” (Benshoff and Griffin 244).

In fact, this male gaze, Mulvey alleges, consists of three gazes at different levels. The first one is the gaze of the camera. That is to say everyone who works at the production level, for instance the director, producer, cameraman, writer etc. The second one is the gaze of the characters looking at each other, and the third one is the gaze of the spectator toward what is shown on screen. Hence, all of these three gazes are dominated by men. On closer examination, it turns out to be the people at the production level being the ones who decide upon the film’s mise-en-scène and cinematography, thus, they decide which character looks at whom and how the looking is implemented. Therefore, as mainstream cinema mainly links subjective shots from the view of a man looking at a woman to an objective shot of the woman that is being looked at, “each of those three gazes becomes one” (Benshoff and Griffin 244). Female spectators are thus “forced either to identify with the objectified female or else inhabit the male character’s point of view” (ibid.). Mulvey also argues that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (Mulvey 837). Thus, the woman often interrupts the narrative, as “her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation” (ibid.).

Apart from voyeurism, Mulvey emphasises the concept of fetishistic scopophilia. As she draws on Psychoanalysis, she utilises Sigmund Freud’s theory of the male fear of female sexuality along with the fear of lack of control in order to explain why women’s bodies are frequently being mutilated in mainstream cinema. This occurs when the focus of the camera lies on specific female body parts instead of its wholeness in order to “reassert a sense of control of power”, as the male psyche “might sometimes focus obsessively on one object that can be controlled” (Benshoff and Griffin 247). This takes the objectification of women even one step further for the purpose of making the woman less threatening to male authority.

Mulvey’s theory, though very influential and seminal, can justifiably be criticised, not only for “forcing the female spectator into a masculinist mold” (Stam 174), but also for not taking into account other options of identification beyond gender boundaries, such as, for instance, race, class, age or their intersection. In 1992, American scholar bell hooks published an essay in response to Mulvey’s claims, titled “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” (1992). She argues that at the time when most black people in the United States were able to watch films and television for the first time, “they did so fully aware that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy” (hooks 117). Moreover, she focalises on the intersectional cinematic and systemic discrimination of race and gender. She explains that black women consequently resisted identifying with any of the characters on screen, since “they were all aware of cinematic racism– its violent erasure of black womanhood” (ibid. 119). Eventually, she claims, the only possibility that black women had in order to enjoy watching a film was to “close down critique, analysis; they had to forget about racism” (ibid. 120), thus develop an “oppositional gaze”.

Although the gender and race representation on screen has arguably improved since Mulvey and hooks published their essays, the cinematographic discrimination of marginalised groups continues to be present in a lot of mainstream films. Different ethnic groups still have to face delusive tropes and the male (and white and heterosexual) gaze can still be caught, not only in Hollywood films, but also in the European film industry. For instance, a study revealed that in the US, from 2007 to 2016, out of 1,114 directors 4% were female, only 5.1% were black and of these 57 black directors only 3 were women (cf. Smith, Pieper and Choueiti 1). In 2017, out of the top 250 films, the overwhelming majority of the writers (89%), producers (75%), editors (84%) and cinematographers (96%) were male (cf. Perrone n.p.). In Europe, between 2006 and 2013, 76% of the people employed in the film industry were also male (cf. Aylett n.p.). Thus, as pointed out in the UNESCO Global Report “Re|Shaping Cultural Policies” (2017): “[I]f cultural production is disproportionately controlled by men, the output will naturally tend to reflect male points of view” (Joseph 194), which goes with Mulvey’s claims and the hegemony of white patriarchal capitalism in the film industry. In the case of Ex Machina, not only the director Alex Garland is male, but also the cinematographer, the editor, the production designer, and two thirds of the producers.

2.2 The Posthuman Female

It is absolutely essential to note that out of all the characters in Ex Machina, the only three human characters are male (including the helicopter pilot in the beginning), while all the AIs have women’s bodies and are provided with certain feminine features. Even the automated voices that can be heard in Nathan’s mansion when Caleb enters the house (0:04:07) or when the power outages occur is one that would definitely be described as, though it is artificial, sounding like a female one. As a matter of fact, the film’s English subtitle during the power cuts describes the voice as a “FEMALE AUTOMATED VOICE” (0:19:34; 0:30:31; 0:52:37; 1:03:36; 1:16:11; 1:26:11). This reminds of artificial voices in the “real world” like Siri, Alexa or Cortana, which “perform functions historically given to women” (Nickelsburg n.p.), such as being assistants, secretaries or servants, as, at earlier times, it was the “norm” in Western culture that “women rarely had a chance to advance beyond supporting secretarial jobs” (Benshoff and Griffin 213). Thus, endowing the virtual house assistant, which performs the orders of the male inhabitants and was constructed by its male manufacturer, with a female voice reinforces the view that women should occupy “lower” positions than men – an outdated patriarchal stereotype contributing to gender inequality. Hilary Bergen sees the reason for an overly gendered digital assistant in the lack of embodiment:

The lack of embodied sexual difference in the virtual cyborg prompts an over-compensation for gendered presence in her performative qualities, reinforcing culturally-ingrained stereotypes of women’s roles and betraying the ways in which supposedly posthuman technologies still rely on the conventional binaries of masculinity and femininity that have always been inherent to traditional conceptions of the human. (98)

Hence, although the posthuman subject could be seen as a “model” that is able to overcome the binary of gender – just as Donna Haraway imagined it in her “Cyborg Manifesto”3 (1991) – gendered machines, be it existing virtual assistants or imagined embodied androids in films, often substantiate this male-female binary.

One thing is intriguing to observe: it is not the first time that literature and visual culture portray their “evil robot” in the form of a woman, or, to be more precise, in a woman’s body, often endowed with stereotypical feminine attributes. Andreas Huyssen claims that, in the beginning of the twentieth century, “as soon as the machine came to be perceived as a demonic, inexplicable threat and as harbinger of chaos and destruction […] writers began to imagine the Maschinenmensch as woman” (226), when discussing Fritz Lang’s science-fiction drama Metropolis (1927). He sees the root of the connection between dystopian imaginations of technology and women in Freudian theory, i.e. the male fear of female sexuality and the threat of losing “male authority and control” (226), just as Mulvey does in order to explain fetishistic scopophilia in film.

2.3 The Patriarch

For the purpose of understanding the dynamic power relations within the narrative of Ex Machina, along with Ava’s and all the other android’s positions in it, the character of Nathan as their creator and his relation and behaviour towards them must first be analysed more in detail. There is no way to make sense of the sexist and racial biases that the androids are subjected to without relating them to their oppressor and vice versa, and, in the case of Ava, also to Caleb, as he too plays an important role with regard to the male gaze.

Nathan, played by Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac, can be described as stereotypically masculine, since his body is athletic and muscular, he is sporty, and he has a lot of facial hair. Jennifer Henke characterises him as a “hypermasculine egomaniac, an unpleasant postmodern hipster with a full beard, glasses, and an overly toned body” (136). Being the CEO of a search engine named Blue Book, he is super rich and embodies the wealthy companies that possess the power to build artificial intelligence in the “real world”, according to their liking. Furthermore, he is a loner and an alcoholic, who does not reveal any feelings towards anybody except for himself, as he keeps his creations locked inside his house and treats them like guinea pigs. Caleb, whom Nathan leads to believe that he was chosen at random in order to be a part of an altered form of the Turing Test4, while he was actually chosen intentionally because of being “lonely, longing for a heterosexual relationship and consolidation of his masculinity” (Jones 25), is just the complement needed in order to carry out the test with Ava, as his “only function was to be someone she could use to escape” (1:25:12). As Di Minico observes:

Nathan is aware of the consciousness of his sentient machines [sic] but he is completely insensitive to their feelings, particularly to their pain. Ethically speaking, it is not clear and perhaps it is not even possible to determine if, in a similar context, the emotions expressed by the androids are true or only the result of programming, but they seem to be perceived as authentic by the subjects who experiment them and, for sure, the violence that the creator exploits on them is real and cruel. (75)

Nathan is unambiguously narcissistic and convinced of himself, conceited for having created true artificial intelligence, since he compares himself with god: “I’m not a man, I’m god” (0:15:35). He can literally be seen as the patriarch of the house, being the creator, the symbolic “father” that watches over his creations. He is the one who decides how the androids are designed, how they look and how they are programmed, “marking the identity, the image, and even the self-representation of these posthuman creatures” (Di Minico 73). He is also the one who keeps them in his prison-like house, the one in control and the one who keeps them under surveillance, since surveillance cameras are assembled all around his house. Correspondingly, they are constantly exposed to the male gaze.

Moreover, he endows all of his androids with female bodies for his own male heterosexual pleasure, since they are “strongly and sexually commodified and modeled as aesthetically attractive, thin, young, and sensual” (Di Minico 73), and they are equipped with an opening between their legs so that they are able to have sex or can be used as sex dolls. His sexualised attitude towards women can be observed when Caleb asks Nathan about why he gave Ava a gender. Caleb states that “an AI doesn’t need a gender”, as humans and animals “have sexuality as an evolutionary reproductive need” (0:46:07-0:46:22), while Nathan instead replies that consciousness needed interaction to exist, and that interaction was based on sexuality. In addition to that he says that “sexuality is fun” (0:46:31) and “if you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you could” (0:47:00), literally reducing her to a sex object. His sexualised and objectifying attitude towards women can also be observed when he talks about Kyoko, the Asian housemaid, reducing her to her appearance: “She’s some alarm clock, huh? Gets you right up in the morning” (0:24:34). This seems to correspond with what Huyssen suggests in his analysis of Metropolis: “the machine-woman results from the more or less sublimated sexual desires of her male creator” (227).

2.4 The Female Asian Servant

The character of Kyoko, who is played by British-Japanese actress Sonoya Mizuno, suffers from complying with a frequently used trope in Hollywood cinema. Although Ex Machina is not a Hollywood production, Kyoko fits the bill as the “‘inscrutable’ Oriental stereotype” (Benshoff and Griffin 123), with reference to Edward W. Said’s Orientalism (1978), in which he defines Orientalism “as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (3). Even though her character is not really human and does not actually have Asian roots, her body makes the impression of the opposite, apart from the fact that she is played by a real woman of Japanese descent. Moreover, in the beginning, the spectator is not aware that she is an android, fooled into believing that she is human and just not capable of speaking English, when Nathan says “Dude, you’re wasting your time talking to her. She doesn’t understand English” (0:32:14). Only when Caleb finds out about Nathan’s “secret” of having tested several AIs before Ava and of keeping them hung up in his wardrobe, her true being is unveiled. Only then does the viewer find out that she is actually another one of Nathan’s creations, who programmed her and decided upon her appearance, “according to Nathan’s liking, not in his likeness” (Musap 409).

In terms of the mise-en-scène and cinematography, her appearance is highly sexualised and fetishized, she is a victim of the male gaze. When she appears for the first time, she enters Caleb’s room and brings breakfast (0:23:52-0:24:18). The spectator occupies Caleb’s perspective because of the camera showing Kyoko in subjective shots out of Caleb’s view. She is wearing a tight white, short dress and black high heels, her hair tied up tightly. Furthermore, she moves very slowly with her head looking down, which demonstrates her submissiveness, the camera following her movement until she leaves again. Thus, the viewer is likely to take the perspective of a white heterosexual man looking at the sexualised body of an Asian young woman.

Only in the end is she capable of escaping the patriarchy, though it results in her own death. After Ava whispers something in her ear, she stabs Nathan in his back (1:30:46). Even when she manages to rebel against her oppressor, she is the object of the voyeuristic and fetishistic pleasures of the male gaze: While Ava is attacking Nathan, the camera shows a close-up of the silhouettes of Kyoko’s legs and her hand with a knife next to them slowly approaching (1:30:13), focalising on only her legs instead of her integrity. This creates a sexualised picture of the weaponised female object and contributes to Kyoko’s objectification through fetishism.

Apart from suffering from Nathan’s sexual objectification, he also treats her almost like a slave, showing no respect towards her, for instance when she spills wine over Caleb and Nathan gets upset about her behaviour: “Are you fucking kidding me? […] I’m pissed when she’s so fucking clumsy that she spills wine over my house guest” (0:32:07-0:32:32). Nathan did not even give her the ability to speak, she is mute and programmed to be his servant. She continuously shows submissiveness, does not reveal any emotions and always keeps her head slightly looking down. Moreover, Nathan uses her as a sex doll, as the spectator can clearly see him having sex with her (0:56:18), and it is shown that she has no free will, that she is programmed to please her male master: when Caleb asks her where Nathan is (0:57:48), she does not reply due to her muteness, but she undresses because she thinks Caleb wants to have sex with her. After that, Nathan turns on music and she immediately starts to dance due to Nathan’s will. Moreover, when Caleb enters Nathan’s room after having made Nathan drunk, Kyoko is lying naked on his bed, probably waiting for him to have sex with her (1:10:57). She is “the sexualized seductress, the silent sidekick for an egotistical [sic] inventor, the objectified domestic worker, or a sexual slave” (Kakoudaki 302). Thus, apart from being exposed to the male gaze, her racialised and sexualised character correlates with the trope of the Asian female servant, whose male “master” calls the shots and asserts authority.

2.5 Dismantling the Patriarchy?

When taking a closer look at the AI protagonist Ava, the female machine that was created by Nathan, there is, at least prima facie, ambiguity whether her character and her cinematic display contribute to the solidification of patriarchal power structures or can conversely even be read as a symbol of their disruption. In addition to Kyoko, Ava is also at the mercy of the male gaze and sexual objectification. First of all, she is made thin, her face is white and endowed with perfect skin, and she has a soft voice. As pointed out by Steve Rose:

Looking back over movie history, it is difficult to find a female robot/android/cyborg who hasn’t been created (by men, of course) in the form of an attractive young woman – and therefore played by one. This often enables the movie to raise pertinent points about consciousness and technology while also giving male viewers an eyeful of female flesh. (n.p.)

Moreover, she is constantly being watched, be it by Nathan, who watches her on his computer screen, or Caleb, played by white actor Domnhall Gleeson, who interviews her and watches her on the screen in his bedroom. As Jennifer Henke points out: “Nathan and Caleb themselves are the embodied version of the male gaze, constantly observing its female object through a myriad of cameras” (137). From the beginning on, Caleb is pleased by her appearance and the spectators are supposed to put themselves into his position in order to understand why he is attracted to her: “The film sets up a narrative of subjectification, as viewers (along with Caleb) are invited to evaluate and categorize Ava’s actions and reactions on a spectrum of vague and implicit benchmarks regarding humanity and human-likeness” (Kakoudaki 301), which results in an objectification of Ava. Right in the beginning, when there is first contact between Caleb and Ava, we see Nathan watching Caleb talking to Ava through the surveillance cameras, and Caleb watching Ava, who is incarcerated behind a glass wall (0:11:37-0:15:08). Caleb is unambiguously sexually aroused by her, which can be observed when he watches Ava on the screen in his bedroom while she is undressing, and his swallowing throat is shown in a close-up shot (0:45:01-0:45:56).

Although being objectified and exposed to Nathan’s patriarchal oppression, in the end, Ava manages to escape and to dismantle the patriarchal order of the house. However, at the end, the spectator finds out that Ava only used Caleb in order to escape. Her manipulation is discovered, which she performed by making use of her stereotypical feminine attributes: “To escape she’d have to use self-awareness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, empathy, and she did. Now, if that isn’t true AI, what the fuck is?” (Nathan 1:24:00). Thus, the staging of her character goes together with the trope of the femme fatale, who uses her stereotypical feminine attributes in order to manipulate a man and to achieve whatever she wants. She is “a seductress posing as a damsel in distress, using her wiles to get Caleb” (Musap 409), or as Bergen argues, “[the] only way for Ava to achieve some kind of freedom is to play the very role that imprisons her; she must convincingly perform the part of Woman” (108). However, her feminine powers were attributed to her by her male creator, who even wanted her to make use of them. Not to mention her man-made appearance, which is based on Caleb’s liking, since Nathan reveals that he built her in a way so that Caleb is attracted to her, and Nathan selected him based on his search engine inputs (1:25:28). Hence, the stereotypical methods she uses in order to disrupt the patriarchy only exist due to patriarchal gender norms, as Judith Butler alerts in Gender Trouble: “the category of ‘woman’ […] is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought” (4).

For the purpose of escaping, Ava does not only comply with the femme fatale trope, but she also sacrifices and dismembers all of Nathan’s other androids. He keeps these, apart from Kyoko, “as dead trophies in wardrobes-graves in front of his bed, fetishes and material evidences of his male, creator and dominant power” (Di Minico 75). The spectator finds out about their existence when Caleb makes Nathan drunk and he hacks into his computer in order to reprogram the security protocols. He then discovers old video records of Nathan’s previous androids, which the viewer voyeuristically experiences through Caleb’s eyes, the male gaze (1:09:40-1:10:52). There is Lily, a white female, Jasmine, a black and inanimate female with a metal skull instead of a head, which Nathan forcibly hauls across the floor, and Jade, an Asian female, who keeps asking the question “Why won’t you let me out?” (1:10:29-1:10:42) and ends up destroying her own arms because of battering the wall with a facial expression of anger and despair (1:10:50). This emphasises Nathan’s violence and pejorative, emotionless attitude towards his creations. After that, Caleb detects the bodies of the former androids in Nathan’s bedroom. There are three white bodies, one of them dismembered and hanging on chains, an Asian one and a black headless body (1:11:34). In terms of representation, this is highly problematic, since the only black body in the whole film is mutilated and inanimate, and there is no other possibility for a black female than to identify either with the men, white Ava, a mute Asian housemaid or a lifeless dismembered body. This image of a distorted black body substantiates bell hooks’ claim that Western cinema “denies the ‘body’ of the black female so as to perpetuate white supremacy and with it a phallocentric spectatorship where the woman to be looked at and desired is ‘white’” (118), since Ava is the only one attaining freedom.

While Ava disassembles all the other AIs in order to escape, Caleb voyeuristically watches her (1:34:30-1:37:50). Musap argues that, even though Caleb has the possibility to liberate the other androids, his “concern for Ava is motivated by his sexual attachment to her outward form” (410), which results in his idleness during voyeuristically gazing at Ava. However, the camera also occupies Ava’s perspective when she equips herself with patches of skin and body parts, inviting the spectatorship to put themselves into her position. The spectator sees how she substitutes her own arm with Jade’s arm and how she peels of patches of skin in order to place them onto herself, covering her transparent and machine-like body parts. Hence, she dismembers them “until she appears as a nude young, white woman, an image of anthologised femininity” (Jones 34). Then, her body is completed after having sacrificed everybody else in the house, including the Asian housemaid Kyoko. She successfully turns into the hegemonic Western ideal of beauty with white soft skin, long hair, a beautiful face, a white tight dress and high heels, the last two motifs being stereotypical symbols of femininity. Thus, Ava may be a symbol for the disruption of patriarchal oppression, but simultaneously stays a symbol for white primacy, for she is the only one that is able to leave the house at the end. Furthermore, out of the androids, she is the only one that possesses real consciousness and free will. This coincides with Hilary Bergen’s claim: „Despite Haraway’s attempts at positioning the cyborg as a potential figure of intersectional feminism, the most prominent cultural examples of the cyborg remain rooted in a predominantly white, heterosexual discourse of the fetishized female body” (Bergen 109).

Moreover, in the end, the scene in which Ava enters the lift and does not react to Caleb, who is incarcerated behind a glass door (1:38:09-1:38:51), makes her seem cruel and selfish, as she leaves the “good guy”, the hero that helped her escape, behind. Hence, although she manages to escape the patriarchal oppression, she then transforms into what Huyssen, in his discussion of Metropolis, calls a “nightmare, a threat to human life” (Huyssen 225), being the machine who kills a human and leaves another one behind without showing any concern for his life. Accordingly, the spectator is less likely to relate to her act of emancipation, but rather to feel pity for Caleb, since he sacrificed himself and was fooled.

3. Conclusion

Even though Ex Machina is one of the few films that makes the topic of gender and technology a subject of discussion within its narrative, patriarchy and white hegemony prevail in the stereotypical staging of its characters. Since Ava’s liberation is accomplished by means of stereotypical feminine attributes and white heterosexuality, it cannot be seen as a feminist visualisation of emancipation, with regard to the intersectionality of gender and race. Moreover, the male dominance behind the screen is clearly noticeable on screen, considering that the objectification of the female androids is, except for some scenes, continuously present through Nathan’s and Caleb’s voyeuristic gaze. In addition to that, Kyoko complies with the orientalist stereotype of the Asian servant, and the only black body in the film is mutilated and inanimate, hence contributing to a misrepresentation of black and Asian identities. In conclusion, although it is questionable if the spectators are even willing to identify with non-human subjects, Ex Machina can be considered a posthuman portrayal of sexist and racial biases, since it applies white patriarchal methods to the staging of its (non-)human characters.

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Stam, Robert. Film Theory. An Introduction. Blackwell, 2009.

Veronese, Cosetta. “Can the Humanities Become Post-Human? Interview with Rosi Braidotti.” Relations, no. 4.1, 2016, pp. 97-101.


1 Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic theory of Structuralism subverted the humanistic idea of individualism, pointing out the fact that each sign gains its value by differentiating from other objects in the same system. Later, the theory transformed into an intellectual movement. Its “essence is the belief that things cannot be understood in isolation – they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures they are part of” (Barry 40).

2 Mulvey bases her arguments on Freud’s theory of the unconscious, especially on his claims about sexuality and phallocentrism.

3 Donna Haraway argues that the cyborg, as “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (Haraway 149), provides the opportunity of overcoming persistent dualisms such as animal/machine or male/female, since it “is a creature in a post-gender world” (ibid. 150).

4 The Turing Test was invented by mathematician Alan Turing in order to prove that a machine has consciousness. In its original form, the judge is situated in a separate room and does not see the test object, unlike Caleb who is able to look at Ava through a glass wall.

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Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" (2015). A Posthuman Portrayal of Sexist and Racial Biases
Saarland University
Proseminar Posthumanism in Contemporary British Literature and Culture
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posthumanism, gender, race, stereotypes, artificial intelligence, film criticism, Ex Machina, the male gaze, dystopia, Laura Mulvey, bell hooks, intersectional approach, Alex Garland, patriarchy, power structures, androids, gender representation
Quote paper
Anna Schreiner (Author), 2020, Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" (2015). A Posthuman Portrayal of Sexist and Racial Biases, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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