Ex Machina as a Neo-Noir Film

Ex Machina is one of my favorite films, and I’m always trying to find new ways to view and analyze it. The film has been categorized into genres such as sci-fi, drama, and psychological thriller, but I believe it could also be categorized as a neo-noir film.

A neo-noir is a film that utilizes many aspects of classic film noir, but it places those aspects into an updated context. Some of the elements present in noir include femme fatales, crime, and paranoia. Drive (2011) and The Dark Knight (2008) are both examples of neo-noir.

Caleb exemplifies the typical classic noir protagonist. He investigates the circumstances of Ava’s creation and imprisonment, representing the theme of paranoia. In a position of desperation, he tries to figure out the correct moral path to choose. He views Ava as a damsel in distress, someone in need of saving. This makes Ava the femme fatale. Her morality remains ambiguous throughout the film, and she acts as a sort of love interest for Caleb. She utilizes her sexuality in order to gain power over him. She double crosses him, which is the main trait of a femme fatale.

The difference with this femme fatale among others is rather than being driven by hate or evil, she is driven by a need to survive. Additionally, rather than dying or having a tragic end, her character is the sole one to survive, leaving Caleb to die. Rather than depicting the typical gender anxieties present in classic noir and subtextually placing women as being disobedient to dominant males, this film is a tale of female empowerment.

The lighting in the film is also reminiscent of classic noir. Often dark and full of shadows, it sometimes resembles the techniques of German expressionism. There are odd angles shown, attempting to help disorient the viewer, aiding the underlying theme of ambiguity and deceit.

Ex Machina conforms closely to noir structure, but it reinvents the characters and subtext pretty radically. Full of ulterior motives, moral ambiguity, and eroticism, this film is a dreamlike, technological spin on classic film noir.



One comment

  1. Anderson Ryle · June 24, 2016

    You brought out some great analogies between Ex Machina and the noir genre. I think that the main similarity lies in the femme fatale being the ultimate victor in the scenario while bringing about the complete ruin of the hero. We see this fairly often in films such as Body Heat and The Last Seduction. What is interesting about Ex Machina is how the emphasis differs from classic noir.

    Typically the end of a noir film would focus on the dark, depressing ruin of the protagonist while Ex Machina focuses more on the bright, hopeful freedom of Ava. And it makes that bright future seem brighter by contrasting it with the men, dead or trapped in the house. And as you said, Ava is not driven by hate or evil, so her actions do not evoke the same emotions from the audience as a traditional femme fatale would.

    Great post, I love noir and couldn’t help commenting.

    -Anderson Ryle


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