margaret stonborough wittgenstein

young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female a.i.

dir.: alex garland
drama / sci-fi

domhnall gleeson as caleb
alicia vikander as ava
oscar isaac as nathan

some facts:

  • dir. alex garland has described the future presented in the film as ‘10 minutes from now’: ‘if somebody like google or apple announced tomorrow that they had made ava, we would all be surprised, but we wouldn’t be that surprised’.
  • when caleb sits down at nathan’s computer & begins coding, the code is for an algorithm called the sieve of eratosthenes an algorithm for finding prime numbers. however it also chooses primes that form an isbn = 9780199226559. this isbn is for the book “embodiment & the inner life: cognition & consciousness in the space of possible minds”, a book about the history of artificial intelligence.
  • title derives from the latin phrase 'deus ex-machina’, meaning 'a god from the machine’, a phrase that originated in greek tragedies. an actor playing a god would be lowered down via a platform (machine) & solve the characters issues, resulting in a happy ending for all.
  • in an analogy, nathan says that caleb should pretend he’s captain kirk. the film’s plot is incredibly similar to the original “star trek (1966)” episode “requiem for methuselah,” in which a genius inventor creates a female android & wishes her to discover emotions such as love by using captain kirk as a target for her emotions, just as nathan uses caleb.
  • caleb alludes to the fact that only gods can create new life. the 3 main characters all have appropriate biblical names. ava is a form of eve, the 1st woman, nathan was a prophet in the court of david, & caleb was a spy sent into a new land by moses.
  • when nathan is about to pass out from drinking, he’s reciting a scripture from the hindu gita: “…in sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame, the good deeds a man has done before defend him.” according to the oppenheimer book “american prometheus”, oppenheimer translated & recited that poem a few days prior to a failed explosive test.
  • early in the movie, caleb listens to the omd song “enola gay” (1980). the enola gay was the airplane used to drop an atomic bomb on hiroshima at the end of world war ii. later, in talking to nathan about how ai will transform the world, caleb shares j. robert oppenheimer’s quote from the bhagavad gita about the making of that atomic bomb (“i am become death, the destroyer of worlds”).
  • in 1 of the closing scenes, the crossing ava imagines during 1 of the conversations with caleb is shown. at the start of that very scene, only shadows can be seen, only later to be revealed to actually depict people. this very much resembles plato’s allegory of the cave which again is an allusion to the it-theory & philosophical problem of mary’s room mentioned earlier in the movie.
  • a portrait of margaret stonborough-wittgenstein painted by austrian artist gustav klimt is visible in nathan’s room. the subject of the portrait is the sister of ludwig wittgenstein, author of the blue book.
  • alex garland’s directorial debut.
  • (at around 12 mins) as caleb 1st glances upon ava, the close encounters of the 3rd kind '5 note greeting’ (re, mi, do, do, sol) can clearly be heard.
  • domhnall gleeson himself played a synthetic human a.i. in the episode of the uk series black mirror, “be right back”.
  • the name of nathan’s search engine company, blue book, is a reference to philosopher ludwig wittgenstein’s “the blue book,” notes on his lectures made between 1933 & 1934.
  • throughout the film, the colors red, blue, & green are prominently displayed in each scene (the green forest, the red brick hallway, the keypad’s red & blue functions, etc.) this is a nod to the rgb color model, which is used to display images in electronic systems, such as computers. ava, of course, being the main computer in the film.
  • domnhall gleeson & oscar isaac will also appear in the new star wars movie - star wars episode vii : the force awakens
  • the film’s title is pronounced with a hard “c” (or “k”).
  • domhnall gleeson & alicia vikander appeared together in anna karenina (2012)
  • nathan’s name is reminiscent of nathanael, the protagonist of e.t.a. hoffman’s “the sandman,” (1816) who falls in love with olympia, a female automaton.
  • the 2nd film to be released by a24 films to feature oscar isaac. the 1st was a most violent year (2014).
  • the ai walks with the hip movements of a young male, not a female. the actress walks like a female (subtle hip swing)
  • actress alicia vikander & cinematographer rob hardy worked together on the world war I drama testament of youth (2014)
  • 1 of 2 films to feature alicia vikander as a half-human counterpart. in addition to playing a half-human robot in this film, she also played a half-human witch in seventh son (2014).


  • in the end, ava session 7 appears on screen even though caleb isn’t administering the turing test & nathan is already dead. this may suggest that ava was testing the 2 of them the entire time.
  • at 1 point nathan tells caleb “it’s promethean”. prometheus was the greek titan that delivered fire to humanity & incurred the wrath of the gods, for which he was chained to a rock & had his liver pecked out by an eagle every morning. nathan routinely punishes his own liver by drinking heavily most evenings. ava subsequently finishes the job.
  • nathan watching caleb specifically is foreshadowed in the very 1st scene of the film: when caleb finds out he won the contest, there is a camera angle from the pov of the camera on his phone, which shows patterns from a face-detection algorithm on him & those around him. later on, in nathan’s home/research facility, when caleb is in his bathroom & cuts his arm, there is a pov from the camera inside his mirror, which shows the same pattern.
  • much of the plot can be interpreted as an homage to “frankenstein.” this is initially made overt when nathan refers to the story of prometheus, of which mary shelly’s novel was named “the modern prometheus.” the film’s conclusion further reinforces this concept, with the creator being defeated by his creation. nathan’s company blue book is referencing wittgenstein’s blue book from 1933/4 in which wittgenstein theorized about thinking & consciousness as a symbol based linguistic game.
  • when nathan is 1st showing caleb around the house, he tells caleb that he is authorized to enter some rooms in the house but not all. any room that caleb’s key card won’t authorize him to enter is off-limits to him. this is reminiscent of the fairy tale “bluebeard” in which a wealthy aristocratic man of that name warns his new bride that she must not enter a certain room in his castle. when he leaves the castle, she succumbs to temptation & enters the room, discovering to her horror the murdered bodies of his previous wives who had disappeared mysteriously. the allusion to “bluebeard” continues when caleb later discovers what is in the closets in nathan’s room.

+: imdb / amazon