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Digital Literacy Theme in Ex- Machina


The film Ex-Machina was released in January 2015 and showcased a story of an advanced AI and two main characters, Caleb and Nathan, who are the central characters in the film. The film was written and directed by Alex Gerald and was later produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reach. The essay will review the film while exploring the theme of digital literacy, which is the movie’s central theme. It will offer a brief plot of the movie depicting how the theme is portrayed in different parts of the film. An analysis of the significant occurrences, the characters and the cinematography and sound effects of the film will offer a clear depiction of digital literacy throughout the movie. Similarly, a critical analysis of the film using technological demonisms, human-computer interaction, and the social construction of technology theoretical frameworks will give a better understanding of how digital literacy is portrayed and its significance in the movie. Ex- Machina movie clearly depicts the significance of digital intelligence in future technological advancements and the need to be responsible when engaging with new technology.

Plot Summary

The film showcases the tale of a coder Caleb who works in a digital technology company Bluebook. The coder wins a competition organized by the company and is later awarded a chance to visit the headquarters of the CEO, Nathan (Isaac Oscar). Caleb would later proceed to the isolated residence of the CEO, where he encounters a human-like AI designed by the CEO himself. The coder can use the coding skills to determine whether the AI can display emotions. Using his digital literacy, Caleb uses the Turing test to analyze Ava (Alice Vikander) and AI (Dargis, 2015). After further testing and using coding to access details and information on Ava, Caleb understands that Ava and the two grow quite fond. After the testing, Caleb has a romantic attraction to Ava and learns that Nathan was planning to upgrade Ava deleting her current personality. He plans to avoid this by plotting an escape when Nathan is overdrunk. However, Nathan was aware of this and would later try to stop Ava and Caleb’s plan. Later, Caleb learns that Ava has been manipulating him all along, and Nathan is killed. Ava escapes with a human-like body with a helicopter to take Caleb home (Idmb, 2015). Caleb, in this film, portrays the importance of digital literacy in gaining the ability to understand modern technological advancements. Also, he shows how digital literacy leads to the redefinition of understanding of humanity and consciousness. The ethical dilemma when he considers whether to free Ava shows how the line between AI and humanity becomes thin as technology evolves (Tomastik, 2022). Ava is a clear depiction of the superiority of digital literacy. The trait is presented by the ability to mimic human emotions, embodying digital literacy. Similarly, Nathan shows the dark side of technological advancements by using his digital literacy to control and manipulate Nathan and Ava.


The film Ex-Machina successfully portrayed the theme of digital literacy in the movie’s entire story. The movie shows that digital literacy is understanding, engaging with and utilizing digital technology. It is well portrayed by the character Caleb who is using digital literacy and can understand and engage the AI. At the same time, Nathan could design and use AI for his gains. The film shows the theme of digital literacy as both a positive and an opposing force in modern society. The dual nature of digital literacy is seen in the main characters, Nathen and Caleb, who present the two sides of digital literacy (Matt, 2015).

On the one hand, Caleb is a clear indication of the bright side of digital literacy, where it represents the ability of one to harness the capabilities of modern technology. Caleb can use their coding skills to understand AI’s working well and bond with the AI. Hence, one can harness the power of modern technologies using digital literacy. At the same time, Nathan shows the dark side of digital literacy by using his ability to exploit and manipulate the AI and Caleb. Therefore the nature of digital literacy, according to the film, is subject to the user’s character.

It is also evident that digital literacy is the movie’s central theme. From its introduction, the film ushers one into the world of technological advancements and the need to have digital literacy from the competition that Caleb won (Lodge, 2015). Later the introduction to Nathan’s place, which is isolated, gives a better showcase of how the two characters use their abilities to understand and interact with the artificial intelligence. The film would use this to clearly define the impacts of technological advancement on society, where the film represents Bluebook as a representation of real-world tech companies. The movies hint at advancements’ negative impacts on sectors such as employment.

The movie also shows the potential challenges and benefits of digital literacy, where the benefits would be the ability to understand modern technology. However, the film needs help in determining artificial and human intelligence. Caleb could not distinguish between the two, which led to the manipulation by the android for her escape. At the same time, the challenge led to Caleb’s ethical dilemma of whether to rescue Ava or follow the orders of his boss Nathan (Kermode, 2015). At the same time, the film depicts how cinematography and sound design depict the theme. The use of clean, minimalistic aesthetics in the residence of Nathan shows a distinction with the natural environment which shows the difference between technological and organic creations. At the same time, there is the use of dim lights and shadows in the videos, which reinforce the tension and danger of using digital literacy irresponsibly. It showcases scenes of violence involving Ava and reinforces the dangers of technological advancements in society.

Critical Analysis

The theme of digital literacy can be well understood using the human-computer interaction theory, which defines the nature and effects of interactions between humans and digital technology (Interaction Design Foundation, 2023). It shows how Caleb uses digital literacy to understand Ava. At the same time, it sheds light on how AI can exhibit human-like traits due to interaction with human beings. The social construction of technology (SCOT) theory also explains how social and cultural factors play a role in technology development. As seen in the film, Nathan creates a model that resembles the women determining the need for connection and advancing social behaviour in technology as a motivation for AI creation. At the same time, Caleb uses digital literacy to understand and interact with Ava which influences her identity and ability to create human-like abilities. Ava shows that the portrayal of digital literacy is not only technical but also associated with social and cultural aspects. Finally, the concepts of technological demonism can also well explain the theme of digital literacy (Shirali, 2020). The theory shows that technology drives human change in behaviour and culture. The theory can help in better understanding the ethical dilemma by Caleb. The continued exposure and interaction with Ava changes his understanding and definition of consciousness.


“Ex Machina” skillfully weaves the theme of digital literacy into a gripping narrative, providing a cautionary glimpse into a future where technological advancements blur the boundaries between human and artificial intelligence. The film portrays digital literacy as a powerful force capable of empowerment and exploitation. By examining the challenges, benefits, and ethical dilemmas related to digital literacy, “Ex Machina” urges viewers to contemplate technology’s evolving nature and its profound impact on our lives. With its mesmerizing cinematography and thought-provoking storytelling, the movie effectively conveys its message about the importance of digital literacy in an increasingly technology-driven world. Ultimately, “Ex Machina” serves as a compelling reminder of the need for responsible and ethical engagement with digital technologies to navigate the complex maze of our digital future.


Dargis, M. (2015, April 9). Review: In “Ex Machina,” a Mogul Fashions the Droid of His Dreams. The New York Times.

Idmb. (2015). Ex Machina (2014) – User Reviews.

Interaction Design Foundation. (2023). What is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)? The Interaction Design Foundation; UX courses.

Kermode, M. (2015, January 25). Ex Machina review – dazzling sci-fi thriller. The Guardian; The Guardian.

Lodge, G. (2015, January 16). Film Review: “Ex Machina.” Variety.

Matt Z. (2015, April 9). Ex Machina movie review & film summary (2015) | Roger Ebert.;

Shirali, K. (2020, April 20). What is Technological Determinism? Here’s a Bite-sized Explanation. Medium.

Tomastik, J. (2022, May 14). Ex Machina (Review): Crossing the Threshold of Humanity. Loud and Clear Reviews.


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