Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (well, her voice anyway), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Rating: 4 out of 5 operating systems, or OS’s as they’re referred to in the film. This movie is at times both sweet and sad, but more consistently it is refreshingly offbeat and unbelievably poignant; it depicts (more deeply than I was expecting it to) a strange future that we’re really not all that far away from ourselves, and the movie moreover strikes a successful and rewarding balance between realism and quirky eccentricity, all grounded by Jonze’s expert direction, writing and of course the amazing performances from Phoenix and Johansson in particular.
The film opens with our protagonist, Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly, reading what we find out is a letter he has crafted, giving voice to someone else’s feelings of love towards another party, and from here we are already set up for the larger question of person-to-person communication and relations. Theodore, dealing with his impending divorce from Rooney Mara’s character Catherine and the loneliness that has ensued, decides to buy a new “OS” named Samantha, voiced by Johansson. Her performance as the operating system Theodore falls in love with is more lively and filled with nuanced emotion and such a distinct personality all conveyed in just her voice alone that I do think the buzz over whether she deserves award-recognition is completely valid. And the chemistry she has with Phoenix’s character is always wonderful, once you get over how odd it is of course.
But as the film progresses, the idea that they fall in love with each other becomes more and more familiar and really quite a bit less odd; shots of other people speaking to their OS’s and a conversation with the always magnificent Amy Adams in the film leads us to believe that relationships– friendships or otherwise– with these devices are becoming more and more common and understandable, possible even more appealing somehow. Plus, the premise seems only slightly outlandish given our own voice-control, technologically-obsessed culture. Somehow, the film enchants us and what could seem like a far-fetched sci-fi romance plays like nothing more than a beautifully shot and wonderfully scripted indie love story; so we suspend our disbelief and feel great sympathy for both Theodore and Samantha, their specific relationship problems seeming not so different from those that led to his former relationship with Catherine ending in divorce.
One truly notable scene between Catherine and Theodore comes when they are signing their divorce papers and she tells him bitterly that his relationship with Samantha is perfect for him, considering he could never handle real human emotion. This serves as another turning point in the film where we are meant, perhaps, to really question how real his relationship with Samantha is, and how real a relationship ever could be with a piece of technology. But the film doesn’t hit its audiences over the head with any one stance over another, any answer to the theme of technology versus humanity is only given in the form of Theodore’s evolution as a melancholy character who learns to be happy again, and it’s hard to imagine that this is a bad thing. But Samantha goes through her own kind of arc, and the intricacies of their relationship and its growth is entertaining and affecting. In a weird way, this film is truly all about humanity, but maybe more specifically the way the very definition of humanity might be changing as a result of these technologies.
Like I said, the film doesn’t try too hard to present us with these questions in a way that is heavy-handed, but they’re certainly there. What is definitely more important and I think interesting is the way these characters engage with one another and their technology in ways that are more meaningful and genuine than many movies I’ve at least seen recently. And for that, I really commend Spike Jonze’s creativity but also his adherence to authenticity and, again, humanity. This film was both funnier than I was prepared for but also more dramatic at certain points, and the presence of such alternating and opposing tones makes the film that much more realistic, which is important given its outwardly unrealistic plot. If I had to pick one thing that I felt was even a slight flaw, it would be its edging towards redundancy; at just about 2 hours long, the romance between Theodore and Samantha goes through multiple ups and downs, and that in itself can grow repetitive and tiresome. But they were all somewhat different, each speaking towards the individual changes these characters go through and each separate tiff really helped build towards the film’s conclusion anyway, so I forgave this otherwise perfect film for this minor potential weakness. This film is unique but more accessible than one might think, and we probably aren’t going to see anything quite like it ever again either, and that’s a shame but is all the more reason for everyone to seek it out in theaters as soon as possible (it opens in wide release in early January).