The development of Artificial Intelligence has led our society to ask difficult questions. Such as: when can a computer program be considered “conscious?” Would it be strange to befriend a machine? Are we dooming living species in such a pursuit? And the most important of all: would you f%&k a robot? This odd little film seeks to answer these questions…okay mainly that last one.
A young programmer named Caleb has been supposedly randomly selected by Google’s, I mean “Bluebook’s,” CEO Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) to spend a week with the reclusive genius. Turns out Nathan has brought Caleb to his underground facility in the middle of nowhere for the purposes of conducting a Turing Test. The Turing Test is meant to determine whether a machine exhibits intelligence equivalent to, or more interestingly, indistinguishable from a human. Said test subject is Ava, an android with the face of a beautiful girl who’s just as inquisitive of Nathan as he is of her. But like all “playing God” stories, there’s always some shit going down in the background.
Let me start by saying Oscar Issac is freaking amazing. The guy has always been a workhorse actor constantly vying for difficult roles and often times elevating pieces of shit in the process (namely Sucker Punch). And like that crappy film, here he plays a charismatic and enigmatic antagonist for Caleb to bounce off. Everything from his odd living quarters, to his obsessive working out, and even to random spurts of dance conjoined with his excessive alcohol abuse creates a wonderful little package of neuroses. Plus, you can tell that he’s not only examining the results of his creation in Ava, but he’s busy researching and analyzing his young tester in Caleb.
Caleb, unfortunately, is actually the weak link in all of this. He comes across as spineless and not particularly sympathetic despite being loaded with good intentions. Plus his actor doesn’t really give a convincing performance as his costars that he really believes all the crazy shit he starts seeing. Not helping a third act sequence involving Caleb posing strange questions to himself that comes a bit from left field with very little set up for it to actually pay off well. And his dialogue feels strangely more stilted then his test subject Ava.
Ava’s actress, meanwhile, picks up a lot of the slack in Caleb’s performance. Her name’s Alicia Vikander, and I hoping we hear more from her because she really sold the idea that she was a machine. There subtle ticks in her speech and walk indicating that she’s not human but she’s TRYING to be. It’s a fine line to walk and Vikander lives up to the challenge. Complimenting her are these beautiful special effects showing off her mechanical insides and the area surrounding her face giving that “uncanny valley” look that perturbs so many of androids that look like humans.
All of these performances are neatly tied together with an overall solid script from the director, Alex Garland. Garland’s got amazing chops in his history from other highly recommendable sci-fi flicks like “Never Let Me Go,” “Dredd,” “Sunshine,” and “28 Days Later.” But this being his first time as a director, he does need a bit more work. His camera shots are incredibly static and flat at times, and in some scenes he fills silence with random shots of various empty interiors. Student film shorthand for scene transitions, basically. Nonetheless, he worked well with three of the four actors in this piece with Caleb being the sore point in this whole experiment.
And Caleb’s absolutely crucial to get right since he’s basically the audience surrogate and the person we spend a lot of time with. But at the end he’s just not that interesting of a person for me to want to follow, root, feel bad, or wish bad for. You can nail a protagonist by making them sympathetic or relatable, or if nothing else, just have him make interesting choices. A missed opportunity in my eyes.
Such a missed opportunity, I’m not really with the chorus of critics praising this film as “the next great science fiction film.” It does a lot right and I enjoyed it, but I’m not in love with it. So I gotta give it a moderate….