A helicopter airlifts Caleb to the residence of his boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). The place is so sprawling and remote, that Caleb doesn’t even realize it when they have been flying over the estate for quite a while. The helicopter is prohibited from landing in sight of Nathan’s building. Nathan attributes this isolation to the need for security. But, it also indicates how psychologically removed he is from the human race. It is ironic that the man who runs the largest search engine on earth, processing 94% of all the requests from the world’s population, must remove himself to a region where there is no internet service. Talk about being the ultimate unsocial network networker. Caleb’s first contact at the “house’ is in the form of a verbal interface with a computer, not with a person. Again, the reduction to a digital form is echoed in the issuance of a photo passkey that determines the extent of Caleb’s freedom within the building. When the two men meet, Nathan tells Caleb that he has a severe hangover, and Caleb assumes he had a party. But, Nathan doesn’t have parties with other people. He drinks alone in the anti-social place he says is not his home (a place where humans reside) but which he labels a research facility, a laboratory where he conducts his experiments. He actually seems to have imported Caleb to play the role of a guy pal, someone he can share a drink and conversation with. A pal Nathan coldly requires to sign a detailed non disclosure agreement and who dictates where Caleb can go and what will constitute their interactions. When Caleb first sees Nathan, he is working out, and we later see him lifting weights and working a punching bag. This activity shows Nathan to be someone who enjoys power, muscling others, and, very really, bullying them. Indeed, when Nathan shows Caleb to his room, the host admits that it is claustrophobic, with no outside windows. It is like a cell, or a cage, where one could say that Caleb is imprisoned. Inside the building there are numerous rooms with glass walls, but Caleb sees a crack in one of the surfaces. It is an indication that this controlled retreat built by Nathan has flaws.
Nathan tells Caleb he didn’t want him there to have an employer-employee bonding session. He wants Caleb to be part of a “Turing test” to see if an AI, which he has already created, can pass for human. When Caleb finds out about this invention he says, in response to Nathan saying that he is part of the greatest scientific event in man’s history, “If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man. That’s the history of gods.” Later, Nathan takes this statement to validate his inflated ego, and says that Caleb called him a god. He then shows Caleb his AI creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander). Although parts of her body and her face look like a person, the rest of her construction shows her to be a machine. Caleb questions how can the Turing test be passed if he knows her to be a computing system. Nathan pushes the limits of the test because if Caleb accepts Ava as a successful AI despite knowing she is a mechanism, that would make for an even greater accomplishment.
There are numerous power failures occurring, which trigger auxiliary energy sources and lockdowns until restoration. At these times, the doors of the rooms and hallways are locked, except for those accessed by Nathan. Nathan appears vexed at the occurrences of these outages. During one of them, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is not his friend, and that he lies about everything, and should not be trusted. He has seen on the closed circuit TV that Nathan took a drawing that Ava made of Caleb and ripped it up. Caleb is suspecting Nathan of abuse. Ava says that she is the reason for the outages, as she reverses her battery charging process and overloads the system’s power grid. She has shown what appears to be a romantic interest in Caleb, having said she wanted to go on a date with him. She puts on clothes and a wig so that she appears to be a real woman. She gains his sympathy because she has never been out of her room, and would like to go with Caleb to observe the world and its people. He does not reveal what she said to him to Nathan. So, Caleb now trusts a mechanism over a person.
During one of Nathan’s drunken binges, Caleb obtains Nathan’s keycard. He watches recordings of his manhandling prior android versions, including sexually using Kyoko. She once even started to undress for Caleb, as if programmed to do so. He finds Kyoko laying naked in Nathan’s room, and finds deactivated versions of other female AI’s in mirrored closets. (There are a lot of mirrors in the film. Caleb talks about how what they are doing is like “going through the looking glass,” referencing Alice in Wonderland. At one point he questions his own humanity, looking in a bathroom mirror, cutting his arm to see if he bleeds. Are the reflections, the mirror images of us, representative of the AI’s, the new, real thing?) Thank you to IMDb for pointing out that the bodies in Nathan’s room resemble those in the story of Bluebeard, which again shows Nathan’s misogyny.
However, Nathan underestimated Caleb, who assumed that Nathan observed the meetings between Ava and Caleb during the outages. So, Caleb already reprogrammed the security sessions during Nathan’s previous night of binge drinking. When Ava causes the power blackout, Ava’s, and Kyoko’s, doors open. We see Ava and Kyoko talking to each other. There is a violent confrontation between Ava and Nathan, who rips off one of Ava’s arms. Kyoko comes up from behind and stabs Nathan. He breaks off Kyoko’s face, but is again stabbed by Ava, and he dies. She takes Nathan’s keycard. She uses the parts she needs from the prior prototypes so she can appear truly like a person. She locks the doors behind her, reversing the incarceration process, making the human Caleb a prisoner. Since it was to be Caleb’s last day, she escapes in the helicopter after it lands.
We next see Ava fulfilling her dream. She is at a busy city intersection, observing people. The humans’ shadows are seen cast on an underpass ceiling, as if to imply they are now diminished copies of the ideal creation (think Plato). Perhaps Nathan’s prediction of human extinction and replacement has begun.
The next film is Contact.