Alex Garland has previously made a name for himself through his novel The Beach, and his screenplays for 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go. Now in his directorial debut Garland explores the complex relationship between humans and AI technology.
When programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins an opportunity to stay at his employer Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) secluded house he finds that Nathan wants him to help with his latest project. He has created an AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and he wants Caleb to test Ava to see whether she can pass as a human. As Caleb gets closer to Ava he finds himself questioning what is going on around him and who he can ultimately trust.
For the majority of the film we are kept in one location. A stunning house which while beautiful is also cold and isolating (perhaps representing how Ava comes across or to reinforce the isolation that keeps our main characters away from the rest of the world). This is a film less about action and more about characters. Caleb is faced with a question can Ava pass as a human? This opens up questions as to what exactly is human behaviour. Can Oscar’s actions be considered human? Don’t humans have it in them to be cold and calculating as they accuse AI’s of potentially being?
We are left in the company of three main characters for most of the film. All have been well-chosen to suit their roles. Isaac brings intensity to self-proclaimed Genius Nathan. Secretive and full of ego, like Caleb we also cannot be quite sure of his true motives. Gleeson works well as the audience surrogate Caleb, and we are often in the same position as him, never sure who he can trust – Nathan or Ava? The best of an accomplished bunch is Vikander as Ava, beautiful, analytic, we are never quite show about her. Does she have human qualities? We don’t know what her real aims are or how she feels about her inventor and her visitor.
It’s not without flaws, sometimes you wish for a little bit more action to drive the plot, and it can be a bit slow at times. It also treads familiar ground and doesn’t really offer much more than other firlms about artifical intelligence. I think the ending may also divide some people. I liked it but others may disagree. But this is a film worth seeing and then discussing with your friends after to see if you viewed the film differently.
Rating 3.5/5 – smart, gorgeously shot and with three excellent performances