Caleb and Nathan talk about creativity and how painters create their works in a bit of Ex Machina.

But what is the take-home message of that conversation? What causes someone to create or not to create something?

You know this guy, right?

-- Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock. That's right. The drip painter. Okay. He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between. They called it automatic art.


What if Pollock had reversed the challenge? What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, "You know what? I can't paint anything, unless I know exactly why I'm doing it." What would have happened?

-- He never would have made a single mark.

Yes! You see, there's my guy, there's my buddy, who thinks before he opens his mouth. He never would have made a single mark. The challenge is not to act automatically. It's to find an action that is not automatic. From painting, to breathing, to talking, ...


2 Answers 2


This scene is hard to understand without also giving the context. In the previous scene, Caleb accused Nathan of designing Ava to have sexuality and flirt with him to cloud his judgment during the test, "cheating" essentially. Here, Nathan is trying to exonerate himself from that charge by explaining how he designed Ava to think. He continues:

See? There’s my guy. There’s my buddy, who actually thinks before he opens his mouth. He’d never have made a single mark. The challenge is not to act automatically. It’s to find an action that is not automatic. From talking, to breathing, to painting. To fucking. Even falling in love. For the record, Ava is not acting as if she likes you. And her flirting isn’t an algorithm to fake you out. You’re the first man she’s ever seen who isn’t me. And I’m like her dad, right? So can you blame her for getting a crush on you?

Essentially he is arguing that Ava thinks like Pollock, "not deliberate, not random, some place in between," and that she is capable of impulsiveness despite being a programmed machine.

The real importance of the scene is that Nathan is setting up Caleb to understand that Ava has the ability to fall in love, genuinely and consensually. In that sense this scene is crucial narratively, in that it frees up both Caleb ("a good kid with a moral compass") and the audience to actually buy into Ava's personhood and the possibility of a romance between them.

I'd argue there's a second narrative purpose here in that the (perpetually drunk) Nathan is also describing his own creative process. He doesn't fully think through the consequences before acting and is as impulsive as a painter flinging paint onto a canvas. Without getting too much into spoilers, the result, like a Pollock painting is a little... sloppy.


they're standing in a hallway lined with masks. And it is similar in theme to Ed Geins. Ed Geins practiced necrophilia and lined his walls with corpses. He made a "dress" of skin from graves. The Nazi's also made items from human remains or 'relics'. It is a composite of the arrogant superman 'software' expert and the country-backwoodsman with issues. Its also a commentary on trafficking of humans & it seems to suggest that only an android could escape, leaving the complicit sort of disingenuous Caleb behind to suffer the consequences. With the "mastermind" dead on the floor. All the weird elements are there: the weird disco dance, the possible drug activity, the supposed organic lifestyle intertwined with wealth and high technology. So what happens to the Android girl that gets away? She convinces a pilot to fly her out, she is then in a busy city where she vanishes. Does she merely blend into a new community? How is it possible? Does she have money? Does she find work? An apartment? Or is the writer/director using this scene as a metaphor to suggest she does not exist and is now "missing". Caleb may die of lack of oxygen, lack of food.
What is the movie really telling us? I think it's fairly simple. Don't take candy from strangers.

  • 1
    I think it's more "be careful what you wish for." Nathan wanted to make a person he could own. He got it half right...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 27, 2021 at 19:34
  • 3
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. I don't understand your answer; you don't seem to discuss creativity at all, or the approach one must take to create something. Please focus on answering the question that was asked.
    – DavidW
    Sep 27, 2021 at 19:51
  • Definitely skillful free association "automatic answer writing" only found in the higher reaches of the Internet or in RACTER Sep 28, 2021 at 10:52

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