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Ex Machina

R13: nudity, offensive language, sexual material and content that may disturb

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

Ex Machina poster

Date registered: 10/03/2015

About the film

Ex Machina is a US science fiction feature film around 107 minutes long, written and directed by Alex Garland.

It opens on Caleb, a young programmer for a global internet corporation, winning a week's stay at the reclusive luxury home of the corporation's owner and programming prodigy, Nathan. Nathan is egotistical and narcissistic but establishes a rapport with Caleb. He informs Caleb that the property is in fact an advanced and secure research facility, and he invites Caleb to participate in a Turing test with his latest invention, a beautiful AI android named Ava.

A still image from the film - Ava reaches out to touch an android face embedded in the wall

Classification criteria: Sex

There is a latent sexual tone that runs throughout the publication, particularly regarding Nathan's relations with the female androids. For instance, Nathan and Caleb have a short but frank discussion about Ava's sexuality; Caleb, in particular, questions the necessity for Ava to have sexuality. It is also implied that Nathan and Kyoko are in a sexual relationship; they are shown at one point kissing passionately.

Kyoko has an eerily submissive manner, passively endures Nathan's harsh treatment and yet presents herself as sexually available to both Nathan and Caleb. As Kyoko is an android, this takes on a further problematic quality; it is unclear if Kyoko has the capacity to consent or if she is being sexually exploited by Nathan. This is further complicated by the question of the androids' consciousness and their striking resemblance to human women.

There are also scenes of full-frontal female nudity. Caleb watches clips of Nathan with the other female androids (who are naked) and discovers the naked bodies of the androids in Nathan's bedroom. The female nudity in these scenes is not inherently sexualised, do not involve sexual activity, and cannot forthrightly be considered a matter of sex. That said, some viewers may read sexual meaning onto the nudity given the context described above and the complicated sexual politics the film addresses.

A still image from the film - Kyoko reveals her robotic nature

Classification criteria: Cruelty

The film deals with matters of cruelty in terms of Nathan's treatment of the androids. It is implied that Nathan keeps the androids contained against their will, for sexual purposes and apparently switches them on and off as he so wishes. At one point a sentient android, distressed by her containment, screams and viciously bashes her arms against her cell door till they are reduced to metallic stubs.

The film also deals generally with themes of manipulation and coercion. As suggested above, the standpoint on cruelty is coloured by the fact the androids are in fact not human, but may or may not have consciousness and are convincingly human in appearance. Whether or not they are victims of exploitation is left for the viewer to decide.

A still image from the film - a female android trapped behind glass in the Red Room

Classification criteria: Violence

There is a single scene of violence in the publication. The violence lacks fast-paced action and dramatic effects; rather it is composed and controlled.

A still image from the film - Confrontation between Kyoko and Nathan

Classification criteria: Highly offensive language

The publication contains use of highly offensive language. At times it has an aggressive and intimidating tone. Almost all of the language is spoken by Nathan, and well-contextualised as a feature of his rude and cynical personality. For this reason, younger viewers are likely to distance themselves from Nathan's character and mannerisms. That said they could be inured to the use of such language.

A still image from the film - Caleb and Nathan share a beer

Classification criteria: Self-harm

There is a single scene of self-harm in the publication. Conflicted by what he has been exposed to, Caleb pokes and prods at his body in emotional distress. Eventually he unclips a safety razor and uses the blade to cut into his arm. Caleb's prodding of the cut is likely to invoke a visceral reaction in the viewer. The conduct and bloody result are also likely to be briefly shocking.

However the conduct lacks the conventions of self-harming behaviour. For instance, it is not the character's intention to cause his body injury, but merely to establish his personhood. Although it has a somewhat instructional quality, the highly removed context means that young persons are unlikely to empathise with the character and his conduct and are thus unlikely to imitate such conduct.

A still image from the film - Caleb, blood on his face, cries out in anguish

Decision summary

Ex Machina is a well-produced and compelling science fiction thriller. Despite the slow pacing, the film builds psychological suspense effectively. The focus of the film is the ethical and moral quandaries raised. The publication has artistic, social and technical merit. The film has high production value, is visually superb, well-acted and the direction is highly commendable. It also cleverly explores ethical and philosophical questions of sentience, autonomy and personhood.

The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 requires that if the availability of a publication is likely to cause injury to the public good, the publication's availability must be restricted. Whilst a restriction of this kind inherently limits the right to freedom of expression, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act allows such limitations where they are reasonable and demonstrably justifiable.

This film deals with material that is likely to cause harm to children, should they be exposed to it. The complicated themes of cruelty and exploitation are reinforced by strong but fleeting depictions. Children are likely to be shocked and disturbed by this material, and do not have the necessary maturity or experience to understand the context in which such depictions operate, or the themes of the film generally. They are not the intended audience, and if exposed to this film they could develop harmful attitudes towards issues such as consent, autonomy and exploitation. Teenagers and adults are more likely to appreciate the filmic and thematic subtleties, will be able to place the narrative and its depictions into context, and are thus unlikely to be harmed if the publication is made available to them.

The publication is therefore classified objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 13 years.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R13 label
R13: nudity, offensive language, sexual material and content that may disturb