Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson
(R, 108 min.)
Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy, Drama, Mystery and Suspense
"Success in creating AI (artificial intelligence) would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last." Stephen Hawking
Less is more here. Forget the long, uneven obscurity of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the crowded plot of Robocop, or the cheesy sentimentality of 2015's Chappie. With a minimal cast and a singular plot, writer/director Alex Garland nails the dangers of artificial intelligence.
But this film is no dry scientific treatise. It constantly engages the audience, keeping us on edge and off balance almost as much as it does young Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) the programmer spending a week at his boss’s isolated retreat.
The opening plot details sweep by us so fast, we are only vaguely cognizant of the reason for this trip, which actually is a plus, given the pretext – Caleb has won a company lottery to visit Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) – isn’t actually true.
So, barely a few minutes into the screening, we are aboard a helicopter along with Caleb heading to an enclave belonging to the CEO of an Internet search giant. We soar over snowy peaks and rocky caverns, landing in a deserted field. This is as close as the pilot is allowed to go, he tells Caleb, leaving him with cryptic instructions to “follow the stream.”
Of course, anyone familiar with the many adventures of 007 has already gotten his hackles up by now, with vague notions of a smiling Blofeld waiting patiently in his remote lair.
The false courtesies of Bond villains fool no one, nor does the clumsy friendliness of Oscar Isaac’s Nathan. With his full beard – one that almost looks like it was unearthed from someone’s attic – and almost shaved head, he already seems wrong. Hair where we don’t expect it and none where we do. The shorts and tank top, the casual air cannot hide the cold eyes behind his steel-framed glasses, either.
Enhancing our unease is a sense of claustrophobic creepiness.
Caleb is given a digital passkey that only opens certain doors; most are off limits. Yes, his windowless room is elegant and comfortable, just as Bond’s quarters in the enemy lair are equally luxurious. The phrase “gilded cage” comes easily to mind here.
Or perhaps we should say cubicle instead of cage, since that is where Ava (Alicia Vikander), the artificially intelligent android abides. Caleb’s purpose here, Nathan tells him, is to interview Ava and apply the so-called Turing test, to see if her interactions are indistinguishable from human ones.
Caleb talks to her from his own glass cubicle, marred only by a shattered glass bull’s eye in it.
The plot frame consists of the daily interview between Ava and Caleb and Caleb’s conversations about them with Nathan. Pretty paltry stuff, on the surface, but the three main characters are so well-written and inhabited that we follow every verbal or facial nuance as closely as a pulse-pounding car chase, maybe a little more, since the latter has become standard fare as of late. Conversation is now the new kid on the block.
Oscar Isaac is literally unrecognizable from his earlier 2015 role as a street-wise businessman Abel Morales, walking the line between ethics and survival in A Most Violent Year. That puts him among a handful of actors who can disappear into their roles. As Nathan, he combines a ruthless intellect and a manipulative amorality that cause us as well as Caleb to heed Ava’s warning not to trust him.
Caleb, on the other hand, is exactly what he appears to be – a sweet, socially awkward tech boy, an unworldly innocent who has walked through the looking glass into another world. Slim and boyishly blond, he is intellectually up to his task, but emotionally vulnerable as well.
Ava has absorbed her knowledge via Nathan hacking into the entire network of electronic communication devices. And given the fetid swamp that is, we should begin to worry, don't you think? Certainly, Ava is no awkward Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. She is verbally adept – contractions are no problem, and she even has a very subtle sense of humor, too. She has a female intuition as well. Ava knows when Caleb is lying to her. And she even seems to sense that her see-through torso and arms, gold and silver threads of wires exposed like some interior jewelry, are off putting. Somewhere around Day 4, she appears in a dress and wig. In fact, she manages a mild flirtation, too, something that both intrigues and worries Caleb.
Just like a similarly plotted early Star Trek episode, this dynamic is a dangerous one. But for whom?
I certainly advise you to watch and find out for yourself. It is a stone cast into the waters. Its undulations will reverberate in your mind for quite a while.
Nathan does like his adult beverages, and the reclusive computer genius tends to overdo it at times. His solution to these binges is a next day health binge. Hitting the free standing weights and nothing but mineral water and brown rice.
A little plain for our tastes, so we have spiced up the brown rice while keeping it super healthy, too.
Brown Rice and Black Bean Salad Recipe
Our recipe makes 12 cups. You can cut down the ingredients, but then you are left with lots of partially filled open cans. Even if you do not have a large family, this salad is very flexible.
This is one of our summer staples. It goes together quickly and easily; it's good for you and yummy. It's also very versatile. The first night it's a stand-alone salad; the second night, heat a portion in a pan with an additional canned veggie and it's a side dish. If you have a favorite veggie, add that; if you hate corn, leave it out. Have fun and eat without guilt!
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
3 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14.5 ounce) can collard greens, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can green peas, rinsed and drained
1 (15.25 ounce) can corn kernels, drained
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies
1 (4 ounce) can sliced black olives
1 (14.5 ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, undrained and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Stir the collard greens, black beans, green peas, corn, green chiles, olives, and tomatoes into the cooled rice until evenly mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.