An awkward computer programmer finds himself involved in a dangerous game when he is invited to test the AI of a robot in a remote testing facility manned only by his sociopathic boss.
Starring: Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac.
Writer/Director: Alex Garland
What I took from this film was so different from what my boyfriend saw in it, who watched it with me, that I started asking people what they took from it. It’s that kind of film.
Beautifully shot, and evenly paced, the first thing I noticed about it was that the main two characters are so awful. Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), the young coder selected to go to the facility, seems like such a loser, hanger-on type, wanting the boss to like him and being so easily manipulated. In contrast, the CEO of the company he works for, a Google-like business, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a classic sociopath, coming across as charming, in control, but slightly above everyone around him, testing them, teasing them, and changing the truth to put him in the best light. They’re basically both hipsters, and I hate hipsters.
Into this mix is introduced the AI machine of the title, Ava (Alicia Vikander), whose wide eyes and sweet face on a metal frame body make us wonder about what nature can be held within. Caleb is told that he is there to test the robot’s AI, whether she is truly intelligent, but the nature of that test seems fluid and non-empiric.
We soon discover that Ava can turn off the power to the facility for short periods of time, and uses this to initially communicate to Caleb that Nathan is dangerous and can’t be trusted. She’s also subtly flirtatious with Caleb, in a rather innocent way. She endeavours to make him see her as human and deserving of compassion, but from the second she started talking about dating… I was rolling my eyes. Isn’t this every American movie? The awful nerd, with the help of his cool friend, somehow gets a girl who is perfect, even though he has nothing to offer her and really is more interested in how she looks than who she is. The kind of guy that a gorgeous girl with self esteem would never look twice at.
The only other character is that of Kyoko (Soyona Mizuno), a beautiful, silent assistant to Nathan, who he treats worse than a servant. His treatment of her shows how he views women, though the proof of this is in his later actions in the story. The female characters in the film are his creations, who must treat him like their God, and be used, contained and tested and destroyed at his whim. What’s interesting is that he wants to create women in the image that he desires, and give them feelings or intelligence, only in order to abuse them.
Caleb is more compassionate, and yet he never loses the attitude that Ava is an object, something fascinating, beautiful, to be possessed and pitied, but he never seems to entirely engage with her or consider her feelings, unless they are the feelings she might have towards him. He never considers that watching her might be an invasion of privacy for her, for example.
Ava, then, is the most likeable character, and I felt concerned for her being under Nathan’s power. Or under Caleb’s, really. I don’t want to say more, in case I’m heading into any kind of spoiler territory. But what is happening to the women in this film is awful.
I guess that that makes it sound like the film is bad, but it’s actually incredible and very thought provoking. A lot of people I’ve talked to about this film were not on Ava’s side, but felt like her wide eyed innocence was hiding something more calculating, which shows you what I mean. The performances are incredible, the script is subtle, and the fact that you can read the film in different ways shows you that there’s a lot going on and a lot to talk about.
Personally, I felt on Ava’s side the whole time, but write a comment and let me know how you felt, what you thought and what you took from it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, see it. It’s not inaccessible nerd sci fi, but an interesting and suspenseful film that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions, though it’s not always comfortable viewing.
Thought provoking, a sad indictment of the way women are viewed as objects and a great portrait of a sociopath. A really interesting film.
See it if: Just see it.