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Reviewed by Galen Strickland

This is much more my type of movie than the last three I've reviewed. There is CGI utilized of course, but it is subtle and not overwhelming. No car crashes or explosions here. Everything about the production is simple and controlled, including the low budget (approximately $12 million). Director Alex Garland has said he had to do it that way in order to make it true to his vision. This is his directorial debut, but he has an impressive resume of previous writing credits. He has been associated with Danny Boyle for a while, having written the novel that was the basis for The Beach, and he also wrote the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine.

Set in some unspecified near future, it involves experiments in the development of artificial intelligence. The first character we meet is Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at Bluebook, this future's version of Google/Facebook/Apple. He has won a lottery among other employees to spend a week with the company's founder and CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his remote mountain retreat, which also doubles as an experimental research station. Nathan tells Caleb he wants him to conduct a Turing Test on his latest model of AI, housed in the robot body of a beautiful young woman named Ava (Alicia Vikander). The standard Turing Test would have the examiner only hearing or reading responses to questions, then having to determine if the respondent is human or a computer. Nathan thinks it will be a better test if Caleb knows up front that Ava is not human. If she can convince him that she possesses human emotion, empathy and a capacity for reason, then he will be closer to success.

At first Caleb is not sure if Ava is truly conscious, or whether Nathan has programmed her so intricately that she has appropriate responses to every conceivable question he can devise. Just as he starts to believe she is truly sentient, he learns his selection for the test was not random, but rather because Nathan had researched him thoroughly and determined he would most likely be the type of person who could empathize with a robot. At times Nathan seems arrogant and insensitive to Caleb's feelings and also to Ava's. Caleb is convinced Isaac is playing mind games with him, so much so that at one point he starts wondering if he is a robot himself, and that Nathan is testing him. Caleb finds evidence that Nathan has been abusive to Ava and also to previous robot models. Or did Ava plant that information for Caleb to discover? Is she manipulating Caleb as much as he thinks Nathan is? And if that is the case, doesn't that prove she has sentience and complete reasoning capabilities?

All good, serious SF is an exploration of what it means to be human, how we interact with the world and shape it to our own design. Now that we are deep into the computer and robotic age, we must ask ourselves about the advent of the technological singularity, when a computer gains true sentience. Is it possible, and if so, what will such an entity be like? Will it acknowledge its creator as an ally and friend, or as a foe, or maybe even completely unworthy of its attention? Nothing about this film is truly unique and original, except for the execution. It treats the subject seriously, with dialogue, facial expressions and emotional resonance driving the plot rather than the manipulative theatrics found in most films. The acting is superb, the action slow and methodical, building to a climax that will have most viewers questioning exactly what happened, and why, and what happens next. Ava is about to meet the world head-on. Is she ready for it? Are we?

Highly recommended!


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Alex Garland

April 10, 2015 (US)

Domhnall Gleeson
Oscar Isaac
Alicia Vikander
Sonoya Mizuno

Full Credits at IMDb

On DVD & Blu-Ray