Utopian Ideology and the Emergence of Feminism in 21st Century Western Cinema

Arjeta Palevic



            Utopian ideology in filmmaking is a reflection of the desires of society for something better than what exists. This paper will analyze gender in regards to this concept of utopia in 21st century western filmmaking in order to understand how feminist filmmaking fits into contemporary society. This paper will discuss and analyze the 2015 film, Ex Machina, which was successful and widely viewed. Several analyses of utopian discussions are reviewed, such as Bertell Ollman’s (2005) Marxist critique of a utopian vision of the future and the potential utopias have for liberation, Frederic Jameson’s (1979) examination of connections between mass culture and utopia and the repression of ideologies, Richard Dyer’s (1992) analysis of how entertainment reflects utopian ideology and the needs created by society, and Alan O’Shea’s (1996) interpretation of cinema and utopian ideology as a means for criticism of social tensions.


            The traditional literary idea of utopia as an ideal world and the growth and interpretation of how this ideology fits into filmmaking will provide a basis in the paper for reflection on gender and sexism in filmmaking. Instead of taking a negative stance and viewing the history of sexism in the context of utopian ideology as a reflection of cultural values, this paper will view how those values have led to the filmmaking we have today–which portrays feminist plots and characters while also being widely successful. This paper attempts to understand, through pre-existing literature, the particulars of what a utopian ideology means for a film; as a dissatisfaction with present day culture which is reflected in the dreams of an ideal world which is better than what exists. In 21st century western cinema, a period of feminism has been reached in which films reflect and address sexism and feminism through various film elements: plot, story, symbolism of location, objects, or the power attained by the individual, power willingly given up or hidden, power shown through composition, and even film techniques such as cinematography and editing. These elements are somewhat disguised in the successful film to be discussed in this paper, Ex Machina. This paper will analyze how this film reflects a criticism of contemporary sexism and a desire for a better future for women, all while being disguised in a sci-fi plotline with seemingly dominant, masculine male characters. This paper will also explore how these desires are balanced between: Dyer’s ‘what is versus what could be’ and the feminist viewer versus the internally sexist viewer. What are the ways in which cinema can present worlds which satisfy the desires of the feminist viewer for the way we wish the world was and yet simultaneously remain non-threatening to the internally sexist viewer? Why is it necessary to remain non-threatening to the internally sexist viewer? How does doing so not only placate their internal sexism but also provide potentiality for their realization of a different belief system without attacking an existing one? Since the inception of filmmaking, its influence and presence in our lives has grown, but its purpose and the reason we love it remains the same: it provides an escape. Even films which seemingly show a world worse than this one contain some semblance of utopianism because one cannot buy into an idea without first being presented with a way to relate to it. This study shows us what our contemporary desires are in the 21st century, how in a world where we’re surrounded by screens, feminism has finally begun to be reflected on them. Even further, it’s imperative to understand the importance of filmmaking as a tool for liberation, to show a feminist world in disguise allows the viewer to bypass the internalized sexism of society and relate to the characters and story as it is, providing them with the possibility of change or awareness. In a society which is so pervaded by sexist ideals and images everyday, this kind of filmmaking becomes essential to slowly contributing to a changed ideology. This paper will look at how one film hides behind the genre of Sci-Fi while presenting male characters which, at first glance, ‘dominate’ the female characters and how this deception challenges internalized sexism.

            Upon conducting the literature review for my research, I narrowed down my hypothesis and viewed films that connect to themes of utopian ideology. I chose to discuss the film Ex Machina (Garland, 2015), which was nominated for various Academy Awards of January 2016. Ex Machina won the award for “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” and was nominated for “Best Writing, Original Screenplay.” Of all award shows, Ex Machina won 60 awards, and had 127 nominations.

Literature Review: What is Utopian Ideology?

            In Bertell Ollman’s paper on The Utopian Vision of the Future (Then and Now): A Marxist Critique, he discusses the particularity of what a utopia is actually defined as. He attributes the confusion of utopia and the denial of this definition to the combination of three elements: “having a vision of the future, realizable or not; the impulse to speculate about the future using one’s hopes, wishes, wants, and dreams; and the construction of one’s vision out of just such materials” (Ollman, 2005). It is the last element--the construction of one’s vision out of hopes, wishes, wants, and dreams--that truly identifies a utopia. Ollman discusses how everyone has some kind of dissatisfaction with the ‘status quo’ which they dream about changing. We know this as daydreaming, the human desire to escape their own realities by transcending into fantasy and Ollman writes,

there is without any doubt the motivation to achieve a better, happier, more secure, and more fulfilling life in all of us, and our imagination has a role to play in both helping us clarify what this is and in stimulating us to act upon it. (Ollman, 2005)

            However, simply dreaming about the future does not, in itself, make someone a utopian thinker, and even wishing for a better future begs the question of, a better future for whom? These dreams are not always progressive or political, and Ollman uses the example of capitalism as an effective means of “co-opting free-floating utopian impulses” (Ollman, 2005). We see this in fashion, for example, where our desires for happiness, beauty, and community are manipulated into a means of profit for the upper 1%. Ollman then breaks down utopian thinking into several factors: we can not have a utopian vision of the future without having some dissatisfaction with the present, because it is this dissatisfaction that comes to light in the utopia as being conquered; if there lacks a connection between the future and present, then the utopian future is irrelevant to our concept of the present because it does not have any relation to our values. Once a utopian vision, one which is based on present dissatisfaction, is established, it can then be analyzed in its own right as a means to understanding present conditions. This utopian future then becomes an independent standard of judgement on the present and past. However, the utopian future is merely a means of understanding the present and past and is incapable of actually causing change in the present, because it is a conceptual ideal, rather than a model for change and how that change can be achieved. Later on, Ollman mentions that one of the benefits of utopianism is liberation. That, by being free and unrestrained from present conditions and analysis, utopia can liberate an individual, not only, he writes, by feeling good, but also by helping individuals break free from the status quo by showing that another way of living exists, “if only in our imagination” (Ollman, 2005). Though this can be liberating, it can also “heighten people’s dissatisfaction with the oppressive routines of daily life, picquing the desire for something better” (Ollman, 2005). This, he writes, plays an important role in triggering ‘critical consciousness’ in the young, thus indirectly causing change in society over time.

            In Fredric Jameson’s Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture published in 1979, he emphasizes the loss of clarity of ideology in our culture because they have become so layered within each other that it’s often difficult to tell the difference between ideology and false consciousness. In relation to cinema, he also writes that ideology cannot easily be differentiated from prejudice either, and that we must now navigate new stereotypes of the “women’s libber” a (female) supporter of the women’s liberation movement, where there’s new representation of women and their struggles, but it’s simultaneously layered with sexist ideologies which directly contradict the idea of women’s liberation itself. For example, portraying Ariel of The Little Mermaid as strong and independent yet still having her plot revolve around the desire for heterosexual marriage. Jameson also discusses a concept of Freudian desire and repression. Freud theorized about unconscious drives or desires, which he calls the id, and his most popular example of this concept would be the desire to have intercourse with a parent of the opposite sex. These impulses live in the subconscious, but they can be called to the surface of consciousness and if this were to happen it could cause intense trauma in the individual, therefore the desire is then repressed for the safety of the individual. This relates to cinema in that Jameson mentions Norman Holland, who revises this Freudian model and argues that commercial works of art manipulate the viewer in a similar sense.

            To Holland, a work of art has two features inconsistent with each other: aesthetic gratification and protection of the psyche. The former performs the wish-fulfilling function of society’s innermost desires or anxieties, and the latter protects the psyche from realizing the potentially dangerous and traumatic desires and that these two must “be somehow harmonized and assigned their place as twin drives of a single structure” (Jameson, 1979). In the case of cinema, it need not be a desire so dramatic as incest, but rather could be a desire for change in the world, perhaps a change in gender representation in cinema. In the example of The Little Mermaid, the desire revived and manipulated is the desire for a more autonomous woman in the late 80’s, and yet this desire is repressed by still refraining the woman from true autonomy by simply chauffeuring her from one patriarchy to another. Jameson writes that this duality of desire and repression shows us that mass culture isn’t simply distraction, entertainment, or false consciousness, but rather “a transformational work on social and political anxieties and fantasies which must then have some effective presence in the mass cultural text in order subsequently to be "managed" or repressed” (Jameson, 1979). Even as the desire is repressed, it’s present in the film because it reflects a large widespread desire and a change of values, and the chronology of Disney princess films over time reflects a constantly evolving perspective of femininity. The only way that films and mass culture are even capable of manipulating and repressing these desires is because they exist in the first place; a desire cannot be adequately revived and subsequently repressed if there is no preexisting desire in the public for said desire. In order for mass culture to perpetuate social conditions, they must refer to the hopes and dreams of society for something different, better or worse, and mass culture must then ‘manage’ or ‘repress’ these hopes and dreams in favor of the existing social conditions, thus satisfying the need for recognition for the hopes and dreams, but still maintaining the existing social order.

            Richard Dyer’s Entertainment and Utopia (1992), argues that entertainment is not static nor just leftovers from history or what business forces onto us or even the expression of “eternal needs” (Dyer, 1992), but rather “it responds to real needs created by society” (Dyer, 1992). However, Dyer acknowledges that this is problematic because at the same time as entertainment responds to needs created by society, it is also “defining and delimiting what constitute the legitimate needs of people in this society” (Dyer, 1992). This dichotomy can be understood when one views the numerous decades of films existence where sexism is perpetuated, whether explicitly or implicitly, on screen. In doing so, film is determining which needs and desires of society are valid enough to be addressed on screen, thus invalidating the need for removal of sexist ideals and the improvement of gender representation on screen. Dyer writes that is a ‘one-dimensional’ situation in which these

[utopian sensibilities] point to gaps or inadequacies in capitalism, but only those gaps or inadequacies that capitalism proposes itself to deal with. At our worse sense of it, entertainment provides alternatives to capitalism which will be provided by capitalism. (Dyer, 1992)

            To be fair, Dyer writes, entertainment isn’t the only agency or institution which does this. Two decades have past from the time at which Dyer wrote this paper, and though it’s true that these social problems continue to be marginalized by those in power, in general and in entertainment, films more and more are portraying stories which deny prejudice and films have become more aware of the public desire for strong female characters. This isn’t to say that sexism no longer exists in contemporary cinema, because it does and it isn’t always easily identifiable, but there are important films being made which reflect this desire for female characters with their own agency.

            In regards to Holland’s Freudian repression model, these examples of female representation aren’t necessarily being ‘repressed’ but rather disguised by various plot elements. The upset or ‘trauma’ would occur in the individual whose internalized sexism prevents them from being capable of appreciating feminist filmmaking because it challenges their own beliefs, thus the vague disguisement of female agency is not to repress the representation itself, but rather the unrecognized sexism of the individual. Dyer parallels this idea by saying utopian sensibilities reflect the way the world is versus the way the world could be. It’s the dissonance between these two ideas, rather than wish-fulfillment and repression, that require harmonisation. What we wish to see in the world, or how the world can be better, is satisfying to see realized in a film, but the disparity between this ideal and real life can be difficult for the viewer to process, therefore it must be somehow balanced or even hidden within what we already know in order for us to accept it without difficulty. Dyer continues that in order for this technique to be effective, the utopian sensibility must be grown from real experiences of the audience. Yet, in doing so, in drawing the audience's attention to the gaps between what is and what could be is “ideologically speaking, playing with fire” (Dyer, 1992). And so what entertainment must do, not through any ‘conspiratorial intent’ but rather because it is easier to take “the line of least resistance” and “to fit in with prevailing norms” (Dyer, 1992), is to work through these contradictions between what is and what could be and to find some harmony between them and seemingly make them disappear. This simultaneously satisfies the wishes and desires of society while also ‘repressing’ them in a sense so that they do not cause any anxiety in the viewer when their minds cannot properly deal with it. This is also a useful strategy because while feminist films may satisfy the wishes and desires of feminists and other pro-equality individuals, it also remains unthreatening to those who internally or explicitly believe in sexist ideals, allowing them to be subconsciously exposed to feminist ideals in order to potentially challenge those ideals.

            In Alan O’Shea’s What A Day For A Daydream: Modernity, cinema and the popular imagination in the late twentieth century (1996), he writes in response to Dyer that rather than being solely an escape to another ideal world with a transformed self, utopia’s are also an escape from social maladies. Present social tensions are managed by utopian solutions, in which “The heroes and heroines who reach a sticky end do so because they will not settle for the world as it is: it offers no place for their restless energy, or their desires to transform their lives” (O’Shea, 1996). O’Shea later argues that in some popular cinema, implicit, fragmented social relations can be seen to often embody criticism of Western twentieth-century world. These criticisms are furthered when the audience is invited to identify with the rebellious characters who refuse to settle for the world as it is, even if it means self-destruction. This has occurred quite often in the favor of prejudice in films, but has recently begun to be used as a tool against prejudice in the favor of marginalized groups, and in the context of this paper, for women who are framed as the heroes or the winners of their own freedom and the freedom of others. O’Shea then talks about Gramsci, who argued that

political radicals should not expect to be able to politicise the masses by presenting them with, say, a fully-fledged Marxist theory of class exploitation. Rather, political movements would only have the energy and persistence they need if founded on this deeply grounded popular common sense with its unity of feeling, thought and action. (O’Shea, 1996)

            Cinema is exactly this ‘common sense’ of society where cinema delves into common aspects of everyday lives like family, relationships, law and justice, and so on. O’Shea notes another aspect of Gramsci’s argument where he argues that political change can only have a chance at being permanent when its aspirations are deeply embraced by a large section of society, and even a slow building of this unity of thought and feeling is needed. Small shifts in perception over time, like those one might experience when watching a film with implicit social meaning, can significantly alter our future.

Analysis: Ex Machina

            Ex Machina (2015) was written and directed by Alex Garland and is the story of a programmer, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a contest to spend a week at the private isolated estate of the reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), of Blue Book, the company Caleb works for. Upon arrival, Caleb discovers that Nathan has been working on creating artificial intelligence and that he brought Caleb there to conduct a Turing test on what Nathan believes could be his success at an AI. The Turing test is a test of an AI’s ability to convince the person testing it that it is human. Caleb argues that the purpose of the test is that the tester not know that it’s an AI, but Nathan brushes it off and says that his AI, Ava, has already passed the traditional Turing test, and he now wants to know if Caleb can relate to her humanity despite knowing that she is in fact an AI.

            All of this occurs in isolation where Caleb must be flown by helicopter through a forest to Nathan’s estate, reflecting Nathan’s own paranoia and obsessive desire for control of his environment. This leads to the analysis of his modern sleek home in the isolated forest as a representation of his mind. O’Shea, in his paper, had alluded to Zygmunt Bauman, who

has suggested that the sweeding rationalism of modernity sees order as manmade and hence nature as unruly (and thus requiring to be tamed). It is precisely the tension between a ‘rational’ society and the ‘unruliness’ of individual ‘human nature’ that has often been (and, I will argue, still is) explored in popular film. (O’Shea, p. 244)

            It is exactly this relationship between order and unruliness that pervades this film and is reflected in Nathan’s psyche. If order is man made, then this is reflected in Nathan’s home being built in the middle of an isolated forest where he can bring order and control to his environment; not only through his modern and technologically advanced home, but also by controlling the people surrounding him, effectively no one except his AI projects. The forest surrounding his home can symbolize the unruliness of human nature which gives Nathan anxiety when he cannot control it, therefore contributing to his nature as a hermit who hardly ever ventures outside his home. His work on creating Artificial Intelligence furthers his need for control and distaste for unruliness because he is literally creating robotic reflections of humanity which he can control. When considering that his AI’s are female, it portrays his sexism as well as he attempts to prove his masculinity by controlling the female representations which he creates. As we learn more about Nathan, we realize that his maid, Kyoto, is also an AI. Kyoto doesn’t speak, not because she can’t but because Nathan programs her not to, and Nathan also programs her to perform sexual acts for him, thus confirming Kyoto’s role as his own sexual slave. This reduces her and females in his eyes to mere objects. Ava is created with the intention of publicizing his work with AI, therefore he does not use her for sex or his own personal benefit, but rather plans to use her to prove his own intelligence. With the house as a reflection of Nathan’s psyche, by Ava attempting to escape from the home she is symbolically attempting to escape Nathan’s sexist control.

            In this plot we have Nathan, the controlling, paranoid, narcissist who controls Ava and other AI. By making his AI specifically female rather than male or gender ambiguous, he is thus also attempting to control and subjugate the female gender by forcing them to conform to his rules. Caleb, the unassuming and unthreatening programmer who seems simultaneously innocent and ignorant, falls in love with Ava, the AI whose humanity he is supposed to be testing. This simple act of falling in love with Ava is another portrayal of what patriarchal ideals have of who a woman should be. However, Ava as an AI with access to resources of humanity and the objectivity of technology is surely aware of sexism and even uses it to her advantage. In her meetings with Caleb, she is almost never genuine. Her every move is careful and manipulative, from what she says to the simple act of physically subjugating herself to him by taking a seat at their first meeting and asking, “What would you like to have a conversation about?” By doing so, she places, or rather pretends to place, the power in his hands by conquering his tentativeness of the humanity of artificial intelligence by performing the role of the innocent, soft-spoken, and placating female; thus comforting him in his perceived dominant role as the male. She preys upon his sexist ideals consistently throughout their meetings, and even Nathan, watching these meetings is aware of this and says this to Caleb about attraction, “[it is] accumulated external stimuli that you probably didn’t even register as they registered with you.” This applies to sexism as well, because Caleb is subjected to the sexism ingrained in society, and Ava recognizes this and uses it to her advantage by convincing Caleb to distrust Nathan and to help her escape from his oppressive controlling rule. To Caleb, he might believe that in helping Ava attain her freedom that he is liberating her, but rather his continued view of her as an object, in spite of ‘loving’ her, is just another form of sexism. An argument can even be made that what he feels for her is adulation, because Ava is never genuine with Caleb, therefore Caleb falls in love with the idea of her and what he wishes her to be rather than who she truly is.

            The only moment where we see a glimpse into Ava’s mind, a true glimpse into her desires, is when Caleb tells her the thought experiment of “Mary in the Black and White Room.” In this experiment, Mary is a scientist specializing in color and she knows everything there is to know about color, yet she’s trapped inside a black-and-white room where she was born and raised. At this exact moment the screen cuts away from Caleb and Ava sitting across from each other to shots of Ava in black-and-white in her room, alone. This parallels Mary’s plight of living in a world devoid of color with Ava’s entrapment in a world devoid of freedom. There’s a feeling of intense loneliness as we see Ava trapped in a room where her only experiences of the world and of humanity are through the technology that she’s made from, not through any real experience of her own. Then, Caleb says, someone releases Mary into the world where she sees color for the first time and she learns what it feels like to see color, and with this we see shots of Ava outside in nature with no signs of humanity in full color. In this scene, another blackout where Caleb and Ava talk unobserved by Nathan, brings them closer and only validates Caleb’s belief in her humanity and his love for her. This clearly leads him to believe that he is the person who releases Ava from her black-and-white world as he views himself as the heroic figure who will rescue her from her distress. From the shots of Ava in nature, it reflects back to Ava’s desire to be free from Nathan as a rebellion against order and control in favor of the unruliness of humanity as reflected in nature. This truly reflects Ava’s humanity, and without this key scene establishing Ava’s innermost desires as humane, we would be much less sure of Ava’s humanity, and we would see her instead as a calculating robot intent on conquering humanity rather than desiring to live freely among them.

            The fact that two men are walking freely in a house where Ava and another female AI, Kyoto, are kept prisoner as slaves is only part of their oppression. When Kyoto makes sexual advances to Caleb because it’s her programming to believe that this is her role, to please men sexually, Caleb refuses her and further convinces himself of his moral superiority over Nathan. However, Caleb views himself as a superior individual, but rather by neglecting Kyoto’s humanity while he fawns over Ava’s, he is again invalidating Kyoto’s agency. No doubt Kyoto’s lack of a voice contributes to Caleb’s continued objectification of her because he shows no concern for her well being and is only concerned for Ava because she is the object of his desire. Not only do these two men dominate Ava in her physical environment, but they attempt to dominate her mentally as well when they take it upon themselves to decide whether she is human enough to live. By taking the choice upon themselves to decide her fate, they are denying the capability of Ava to have any emotions at all, thereby invalidating her agency. It’s no accident by Garland’s part as writer that Ava is female, as this conflict reflects the struggle of women in a sexist society who are dictated by what is ‘proper’ behavior. Ava’s AI intelligence allows her to see humanity objectively, without being affected by norms, roles, or institutions, and she is uniquely capable of using this objectivity to escape patriarchal oppressions by manipulating Caleb who succeeds at freeing her.

            Ava and Kyoto then meet for the first time and make plans to kill Nathan, their abuser, and they succeed, though Kyoto is heavily damaged in the process. The murder is done coldly, but the partnership between Ava and Kyoto, both stabbing Nathan once, reasserts their voices. Particularly Kyoto, in that she is the first to stab Nathan in the back and when she does he first turns to face her, then attempts to turn to view the wound in his back, but instead Kyoto touches his face gently and directs it to look her in the eye. Though she cannot speak, this action speaks volumes to Kyoto’s experienced trauma and final reclamation of power. Kyoto is left in what seems to be the AI equivalent of death after Nathan strikes her, but Ava stabs him a second time and leaves him for death.

            Ava survives and she begins to transition into further humanity in which she begins to truly see the world in color. She recognizes her nakedness in the exposure of her technological insides and she covers herself completely for the first time in artificial skin, hair, and a dress, fully assuming the appearance of a human and finally having agency as a female human free from her oppressors. As she dons her human female skin, she views her new body in the mirrors before her, which splice her reflection into numerous pieces. Again, as Ava enters human civilization in the city intersection she dreamed of visiting we see only her inverted shadow and a reflection of her through glass with dozens of reflections of other people walking by. This motif of reflection represents the complexity of Ava’s nature; Ava’s mind is, as Nathan had intended it to be, “fluid, imperfect, patterned, chaotic.” Even as Nathan no longer has control over Ava, he remains her creator and he created her in the image of humanity, though he himself did not realize the extent to which he succeeded. Even the viewer can never fully know or understand Ava, which is Garland’s affirmation of her complexity and an acknowledgement of her freedom to remain unknown to us. We don’t know if she’s good or bad, whether she’ll destroy humanity or save it, or whether she’ll simply live among humans in peace, as other artificial intelligence films would have us expect. Ex Machina doesn’t pretend to understand Ava or her motivations, thus fully affirming that the choices she made were her own and they aren’t meant to be understood or validated by anyone. By not attempting to validate her choices, the film thereby validates her existence and complexity as a human being with the freedom to do whatever she desires.

            Ex Machina and its success is a reflection of a change of contemporary values in film. This is a movie where gender norms are a central aspect of the plot and story and it clearly presents, as Dyer wrote, a need created by society for females with their own agency.  The end that a woman should aspire to is no longer defined as marriage, family, or man, but rather her chosen end of her own freedom. Ava defies the modes of oppression, just as all women wish they could, whether consciously or not, and fully rejects the oppression she experienced as a woman. This film is incredibly successful in the respect of the model of repression presented by Jameson in which we are provided with a powerful female character who asserts her own agency, saves herself, and gains her freedom. This is satisfying and even liberating to the feminist viewer, but for the internally sexist viewer, the discordance between their internalized sexism and the agency of Ava can be harmonized by the simple fact that Ava is literally a robot. A common fear of AI’s is that they are heartless, cold, and calculating beings, destined to dominate emotive humanity. However, there are key points in the film which clearly demonstrate Ava’s humanity, (like dreaming of a world in color, wishing to visit an intersection in a city filled with people, or the sensual way she touches an artificial face she finds on the wall in Nathan’s home). A viewer who refuses to accept the power of Ava as a female can then attribute the power of Ava to her nature as Artificial Intelligence, thus repressing the sexist ideals and harmonizing their innate beliefs. By using the concept of artificial intelligence as a symbol for oppression and a means for freedom, the film offers, as Ollman wrote, liberation to the viewer of their own societal beliefs. It offers individuals insight into the way that their world could be, thus encouraging them to recognize and shed their internalized sexism and adapt a more open and progressive feminist stance of gender. Even if the viewer does not adapt this stance, these implicit social meanings will enter into their subconscious and slowly over time will culminate in a larger societal shift in ideology, particularly in youth. Ollman presents the case similar to Dyer, in which the utopia is a combination of what is and what could be. While at first glance this is a film about the potential of technology to advance to the creation of artificial life which will then bypass humanity, it’s more deeply a film about gender and the struggle for a voice in a world which gives you none. In the invalidation by the men in the film of Ava’s desires and humanity, the film itself and her liberation from their oppression is a validation in itself of her right to freedom. The film seconds and encourages the freedom which she takes for herself and is simply there as a means of portraying her ascension to freedom.


            This analysis of Ex Machina not only criticizes sexism in many abusive forms, but it also illustrates its domination. This doesn’t mean that the only way to conquer sexism is by turning humanity into robots, but rather by telling the story through the lens of sci-fi and artificial intelligence, it provides a frame through which we can look critically at present day society and understand where the issues of our society lie. Awareness is the first step to change, and though films cannot motivate change in themselves, they can inform change and allow for in-depth thinking on social tensions. The success of the reception of Ex Machina illustrates its success in balancing societal desires while simultaneously repressing them. This film does not upset viewers who might have internally sexist ideals, therefore it succeeds in entering their subconscious. Film offers a unique position to be able to balance these contradictory factors, being able to manipulate the way the world is and the way the world could be into a harmonized whole, a balance notably achieved by Ex Machina


Bellagamba, U. (2016). From Ideal to Future Cities: Science Fiction as an Extension of Utopia. Philosophy & Technology, 29(1), 79–96. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/10.1007/s13347-016-0213-7

Bell, W., & Wau, J. (Eds.). (1971). Sociology of the Future: Theory, Cases and Annotated Bibliography. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Berlant, L. (2007). Nearly Utopian, Nearly Normal: Post-Fordist Affect in La Promesse and Rosetta. Public Culture, 19(2), 273–301. http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/10.1215/08992363-2006-036

Dyer on Entertainment.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1069028.files/Dyer%20on%20Entertainment.pdf

Famous Utopias in Sci-Fi Movies. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://www.fandango.com/movie-photos/famous-utopias-in-sci-fi-movies-925

Film-Theory-Criticism-Preview.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://leobraudy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Film-Theory-Criticism-Preview.pdf

FITTING, P. (1993). What Is Utopian Film? An Introductory Taxonomy. Utopian Studies, 4(2), 1–17.

Gamboa, P. (2009). Dystopias: Political Nightmare in the Cinema. Hyperbolic Fantasy or Prophecy? Estudios de Derecho, 66(147), 139–149.

Garland, A. (2015). Ex Machina.

Garland, A. (2013). Ex Machina. Script.

Humm, M. (1997). Feminism and Film. Edinburgh University Press.

Jameson, Reification and Utopia.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.english.ufl.edu/mrg/readings/Jameson,%20Reification%20and%20Utopia.pdf

Law, A., & Law, J. (2002). Magical Urbanism: Walter Benjamin and Utopian Realism in the film Ratcatcher. Historical Materialism, 10(4), 173.

Nava, M., & O’Shea, A. (2013). Modern Times: Reflections on a Century of English Modernity. Routledge.

Ollman, B. (2005). The Utopian Vision of the Future (Then and Now): A Marxist Critique. Monthly Review, 57(3), 78–102.

Paden, R. (2006). Ideology and Anti‐Utopia. Contemporary Justice Review, 9(2), 215–228. http://doi.org/10.1080/10282580600785025

Pratt, G., & San Juan, R. M. (2004). In search of the horizon: utopia in The Truman Show and The Matrix. In The emancipatory city? Paradoxes and possibilities. Sage Publications. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.jerome.stjohns.edu:81/socscicoll/docview/36595627/DB1706E0C2984DADPQ/28

Sutherland, J.-A., & Feltey, K. (2012). Cinematic Sociology: Social Life in Film. SAGE.

Wayne, M. (2002). Utopianism and Film. Historical Materialism, 10(4), 135–154. http://doi.org/10.1163/15692060260474404

This was a piece of writing that Arjeta had written for one of her Sociology courses. I encouraged Arjeta to present this paper during Research Month, and worked with her on the revision and presentation. -- Dr. Judith DeSena