Does Caleb die at the end of Ex Machina, or does he eventually make it out alive?

  • thanks for your update and explanation; however, if the author themselves thought it unnecessary to explain that situation, how do you expect us to find an answer to it?
    – Möoz
    Mar 29, 2017 at 20:51
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    @BillBow We don't usually like to delete questions when people have put a lot of effort into answering them - it's not fair to the answerers to lose that rep and have all that effort go to waste. Once the bounty ends, you can vote to close your own question as opinion-based; it'll then pass through a review queue where other users can either agree with your vote or decide it should stay open. My advice is not to worry too much about it - you've asked a lot of good questions, so don't feel too bad about one that you think is subpar :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 29, 2017 at 22:30

5 Answers 5


I very much believe that Alex Garland intended us to believe whatever we wanted to believe.

But Caleb *is* dead; in a manner of speaking - Look, it's all a matter of perspective[1][1]. Alex Garland (the Writer and Director of *Ex Machina*) believes that in this particular story, **you can choose who the protagonist is**. He himself has always believed the machine, Ava, to be the protagonist (and this will be important for our point here), whereas the storytelling and viewpoints lead us to believe that it is in fact Caleb who is the protagonist, a red-headed herring if you will.

As he states in a recent interview with Andrew O'Hehir:

It’s so interesting. It simply never occurred to me, that thought, because I felt so allied to Ava. What I feel is that subjective responses can come from all sorts of areas, from one’s own life experience, broadly. I think the simplest way of looking at it is that it depends which character you attach yourself to. What’s your proximity, basically? Now, if you’re proximity is with Caleb, the young man, I understand. I could follow a logical argument that allows for that interpretation and actually feel, in a way, perfectly comfortable with that interpretation. But it’s not mine.
-Andrew O'Hehir, Salon, Dark secrets of the sex robot: Alex Garland talks A.I., consciousness and why “the gender stuff” of “Ex Machina” is only one part of the movie’s big idea, Thursday, APR 23, 2015.

Re-iterated in a recent AMA on Reddit with Alex Garland himself:

... Included that final scene because the movie isn't actually Caleb's story, it's Ava's story.
-I am Alex Garland, the writer and director of Ex Machina, joined by scientist Adam Rutherford and AI Expert Murray Shanahan, AUA.

Now, this is important because it's what drives our own want for Caleb's story to come to a concluding end; we need to know what happened to him, even if it was death. It also drives our resentment for Ava for her attempted homicide of Caleb, blaming her for killing our protagonist (and in effect, us2).

However, Ava's motivations for the final scene weren't inherently evil, or that she doesn't have any empathy, because she does; she was merely protecting herself and ensuring her own survival. This is something that Oscar Isaac, who plays the role of Nathan tells us:

Interviewer: I was trying to figure out if this movie has a villain. I think at the beginning, Nathan’s the villain, then Caleb becomes the villain, then Ava is almost a villain. Do you think there’s a villain in this movie?
Oscar Isaac: I mean, if anyone I would say Nathan’s definitely the most damaged for sure. I don’t think Ava’s a villain.
Interviewer: She does basically kill Nathan and leave Caleb. She screws them over for herself.
Oscar: Yeah, for survival yeah, exactly. Otherwise she’s going to be killed.
Slashfilm.com, Alex Garland and Oscar Isaac Explain and Dissect the Ending of ‘Ex Machina’, Posted on Friday, April 24th, 2015 by Germain Lussier

And re-iterated further by Alex Garland in the above mentioned AMA:

Don't want to do a sequel. But she isn't out for revenge. She's out for her own future.
-I am Alex Garland, the writer and director of Ex Machina, joined by scientist Adam Rutherford and AI Expert Murray Shanahan, AUA.

Now Caleb has sealed his own fate as far as Ava is concerned because he basically gave her the wrong answer when she asked him what will happen to her if she fails, as explained by Alex Garland:

Alex Garland: Into that space comes the jailer’s friend, the only other man she has ever seen, who may or may not be trustworthy. At a certain point in the narrative, she asks a very reasonable question: “What will happen to me if I fail your test?” And his answer is elliptical. At that point, how does she know whether she can trust this guy?
Interviewer: Right. Because he’s playing both sides too. He’s not sure where his loyalties lie.
Alex Garland: He is playing both sides, and for him it’s a pretty big mistake. In the end, what she does from my point of view, is that she is resourceful, not in terms of feminine duplicity but in terms of human interaction, and she gets out. When she gets out, I’m with her. One of the things I’ve noticed is that some people say, “The film goes on three minutes too long. Why doesn’t it end with this lift door closing?” Now, if it ended there, I think that’s an indication that the person you’re with is Caleb, and his story is over. But for me, the whole story is intended to reach that final moment. When I talked with the actors I used to say, “This is what I’m aiming for.”
-Andrew O'Hehir, Salon, Dark secrets of the sex robot: Alex Garland talks A.I., consciousness and why “the gender stuff” of “Ex Machina” is only one part of the movie’s big idea, Thursday, APR 23, 2015.

And so Caleb gets locked in the room, and as our old friend JackBNimble says: "he's dead to me". It doesn't actually matter whether Caleb lives or dies, he's no longer part of the story, his part is played and his role is finished and his story is now a dead-end (so to speak).

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    I stress for the final time that the author's intent wasn't to flesh out Caleb's story, it was Ava's; therefore, he did not intend to write up the details of the room (including whether it's escapable or suvivable), that is my point; not that Caleb isn't an important character (he was, after all, 1 of 4 major characters in the story and is in-fact our viewpoint and stand-in). You may well be interested in knowing Caleb's story (which is a good thing to want), but the answer is unfortunately not going to be there or may not align to what you are after.
    – Möoz
    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:30
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    Suffice it to say that he is Schrödinger's Caleb; he is neither dead, nor alive, and both.
    – Möoz
    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:32
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    @BillBow Your question isn't very clear on that front. You're asking "Did he die?" now, but in this comment you're asking "Could he have possibly survived?" which is fundamentally different. This answer addresses that first question: We don't know. If you instead want to ask the second question "Could he have possibly survived?" then the answer is probably primarily opinion-based, because we're not given enough information about his limitations or ingenuity.
    – user31178
    Mar 30, 2017 at 1:41
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    After some consideration, I've decided to award the bounty. Your answer is well-received by the community and although I'd prefer a more definitive answer, it's definitely got the level of research effort that I feel deserves reward.
    – Valorum
    Apr 3, 2017 at 23:39
  • @Valorum Thank you kindly :) this'll go a long way towards my goal of finally knocking you off the top :p
    – Möoz
    Apr 3, 2017 at 23:44

TL;DR: It's up to you, the viewer to decide ;)

Longer version.

The main purpose of locking Caleb was to avoid him going through the path of Ava with him disconnecting her before she runs havok.

I'll let Movies SE try to look for the name of this dramatic situation, but we can see Caleb tries hard to escape (breaking the door with a stool, hacking the computer,...) The movie lets the audience think that Caleb can still escape and block Ava before she goes into the real world.

We don't have more information later but I suppose Caleb will find a way to detach some windows with a homemade screwdriver or force the door to open,...Some other posts say no.

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    Well, given that he was unable to break through the door, and that the system went into lockdown, I don't see him finding a way out. He was in the underground section, right? No windows.
    – Petersaber
    Mar 24, 2017 at 22:05
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    We can speculate a long time like this : we can see that Caleb cannot open the door even with the power outage so I suppose the standard protocol rewrote itselft somehow. Also he is in Nathan's room which has a minibar and maybe some food so he won't be starving... My point is it doesn't mather for the movie if Caleb will die in this room : it's the fact that he is the only one to know that Ava is a machine and he can't warn anybody!
    – Goufalite
    Mar 25, 2017 at 14:23
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    The computer doesn't work without Nathan's card physically inserted. And it's on the other side of the door, with his corpse.
    – Petersaber
    Mar 25, 2017 at 18:19

I watched it again. Nathan must have left his office with his card rendering his computer useless given Ava must have needed it to to enter Nathans office when she tells Caleb to stay and must have used it to exit the complex also, so using the computer as a means of escape for Caleb is out.

The night before though, Caleb had reprogrammed the system to open all the doors on a power failure so if he were able to trigger a power failure from Nathans office, perhaps by short circuiting the lamp or computer or even by tipping liquid into a power outlet, then the whole place should have opened up as-well. He is certainly smart enough to have figured out that creating another power failure would open the doors again.

Eventually someone would have come to the house anyway, you would assume, to see what had happened to Nathan, so it would also depend on the amount of drinks and snacks that Nathan kept in his office as to how long Caleb could survive without starving before being rescued. Given Nathans position of importance it wouldn't be too long before he was missed by the rest of his company etc. Also the entire company is aware of Caleb's visit to the facility that week given he'd won the contest so there would be two missing persons reports filed regarding the same location.

So given his circumstances, I think Caleb does not necessarily die at the end and in fact he most probably survives.

Remember the question is regarding whether Caleb survives or not, not Ava or if Caleb surviving is relevant to the story, just wether he did or not, that was my question. Cheers

  • The power goes out. He's not emailing anyone. Also the glass is bulletproof plexiglass. It's almost certainly not anchored just using silicon putty
    – Valorum
    Mar 25, 2017 at 18:12

I have only seen the movie once, but being an expert film critic, let us look at the facts based on real life. In real life:


  1. If you work for a corporation that has an HR department that takes care of its employees on a career path, most companies are responsible for their employee on a business trip, hence: They will come back for Caleb after he is missing a few days. Hopefully he has enough beer and water to survive in that space for 3-4 days. Let us hope they find that the house is there within that timeframe.
  2. It was a fact they reprogrammed the doors to open on extended power failure. We do not know how long the failure needs to continue until the doors unlock.
  3. Ava did not feel she could trust Caleb. If Caleb had given her more trust during her test process, he would have won her trust, and I believe we can agree it is fact that she would read from his emotions that he would help her.

From the above, most likely, Caleb survives and continues his life. Ava lives her own. There is also a small risk that Caleb dies because something has gone wrong with the doors not opening or; Ava lied about that part.


Just rewatched movie. It is not necessary for Ava's survival that Caleb die -- she just needed to get to the helicopter first but come to think of it, she might have fared better with Caleb to help her in the world although I think the clear implication is that with her charm and intellect she will do just fine; indeed, she managed to convince the copter pilot to take her. She might have calculated that Caleb would reveal what had happened and so needed a head start. If she had definitely wanted him dead to insure her secrets remain untold, she might have taken more direct action.

As far as Caleb surviving it seems pretty likely (as others have indicated) that the CEO of a huge company will be looked for and someone must know exactly where he is and at that point, assuming that the power being out does not prevent breathable air from circulating, Caleb would likely be found alive. And then he would have some explaining to do and might in fact not be believed.