In the bathroom scene in Ex Machina (2015), Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) performs a test on himself, to see if he is an android like Ava, and, as he has just discovered, Kyoko. While one would think this scene should resolve the question, it only muddies the water. As Caleb examines himself in the mirror, green and blue digital effects flash on his face. Is this a function of the mirror, or a HUD of Caleb’s potentially robotic eyes? Or perhaps it is a non-diegetic element solely to heighten the viewer’s curiosity. Sound design plays an integral role in this scene as well. As he pulls at his teeth, small click sounds emanate from his mouth, which could be plastic pieces snapping, or just the sound of his fingers clicking on his teeth. The score features electronic instruments and synthesizers playing non-lyrical rising tones. This both reflects a mechanical mood, hinting that Caleb may be an android, and instills a sense of rising tension with the viewer, anxiously anticipating a reveal.
The cinematography is vital to this scene’s function. The camera work toys with the viewer, first with quick, non-continuous cuts, followed by long, suspenseful shots, keeping the audience disoriented and unable to predict the pace of the scene. As the scene progresses, the lighting shifts to emphasize his bone structure, tantalizing the audience to see what is below his skin.
One particular shot is composed so that Caleb’s arm and body form a triangle with his face obscured behind it. This separates the audience from Caleb, making the viewer wonder if they can trust and relate to him anymore. Is this a moment of revelation for him as he looks at his cut open arm? The framing of the shot, with his eye at the top of the triangle formed by his arm and body, is ever so slightly reminiscent of the Illuminati symbol, which could allude to the conspiracy facing Caleb.
What is most compelling in this scene is Gleeson’s performance. What kind of human can cut deep into their own arm without so much as flinching or uttering a sound of pain? Though he begins the scene frantic and curious, he ends the scene staring at his reflection, unblinking in a very Terminator-like fashion. He ends the scene by punching the mirror, creating a shatter which very poetically mirrors the shatter on the glass between him and Ava.
Though this ultimately proves to be a red herring, this scene all but convinces the viewer that Caleb is likewise a robot.
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