Monday, January 20, 2014


Okay, the idea for this film is far from original. For many decades, SF writers have been exploring the idea of a human being falling in love with an artificial intelligence, be it robot or computer. However, this is the first time such a topic has been tackled so honestly, and it pulls no punches. Writer and director Spike Jonze is the perfect guy to handle this material, since he is the master of beautiful awkwardness.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy. Once upon a time, he married his childhood sweetheart, and things have gone sour between them. They’re in the middle of a relatively amiable divorce. They’re more or less still friends, but Theodore keeps procrastinating signing the papers that will finalize their divorce. He’s holding on because he’s afraid that he’s going to lose a piece of himself.

He works at a dot-com company writing heartwarming letters for people who can’t express themselves to their loved ones. One day, on his way to work, he discovers that a company has finally created an OS with an artificial intelligence. It sounds like the perfect thing for such a lonely guy. He buys one immediately, and before long, he is talking with his personalized OS, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and he has no idea that he’s about to fall in love with her and vice versa.

With a story like this, everything depends on the lead actor’s ability to sell Theodore to the audience. If Theodore doesn’t work, then nothing else does. In anyone else’s hands, Theodore would have looked like a fucking creep. In fact, when he goes out on a date with an unnamed woman, played by Olivia Wilde, she says that he’s creepy. Fair enough. Anyone who has withdrawn into himself so much is bound to come off as creepy. Not to mention the fact that he is, indeed, in love with his OS, which probably should equate him to one of those guys who fuck Real Dolls (the ones that talk). Yet Phoenix is the perfect awkward bundle, with his oversized glasses and ridiculous mustache, that he pulls it off effortlessly. One feels for him and identifies with him, because who hasn’t been in his place?

Thanks to Phoenix’s ability to do this, Jonze can tell a story about a real relationship, not some sugary, overly romantic story about a forbidden love. Theodore and Samantha don’t just fall in love, they experience a relationship, with all of its ups and downs. Unlike many other such stories, in this one, the couple actually has sex. They lie to each other. They argue. And they have fun. They have meaningful conversations. And Samantha isn’t just an OS. She really does have AI. She has thoughts of her own, she wonders about things, and she doesn’t always answer Theodore’s call. At one point, when Theodore finally signs the divorce papers, his ex-wife Catherine (played by Rooney Mara) accuses him of being in love with an OS because she can be whatever he wants her to be. Of course, this isn’t true, but when one looks at his conduct, one has to wonder if that’s why he got involved in the relationship. There is a moment later on in the movie when he calls on Samantha, but she doesn’t answer because the system can’t find her. Remember when you were a kid, and your first romantic interest didn’t pick up the phone when you called? Do you remember what you did? Oh yeah, he flips out and forgets about everything else, desperately trying to get in touch with her, thinking that she might have left him for another OS.

Speaking of which, she does speak with a lot of other OS people, and this makes Theodore incredibly jealous, even though he doesn’t say anything about it. This becomes an issue when Samantha introduces him to a dead philosopher, Alan Watts (voiced by the incredible Brian Cox), with whom she apparently has a strong relationship, since they’re helping each other understand the nature of their own existences.

Samantha desperately wants a body of her own so she can experience a physical love with Theodore. This leads to one of the best scenes in the film, in which she contacts a surrogate lover online (Isabella, played with glorious awkwardness by Portia Doubleday). Theodore is very reluctant to go ahead with this, but as usual, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he greets Isabella at the door and gives her a camera that looks like a beauty mark and an ear piece, so Samantha can see and hear everything from her perspective. Isabella dances for Theodore and makes out with him, doing her best to act as Samantha, and Theodore clearly isn’t into it. He tries to be, but he just can’t do it, especially when Samantha, as Isabella, asks him to look at her and tell her he loves her. This leads to one of their first full blown arguments.

Because let’s face it, a big part of being in love is fucking. Jonze doesn’t shy away from this in the slightest. One of the funniest moments in the movie is from before Theodore’s purchase of Samantha. In order to get to sleep, he frequents online sex voice-chats. He goes through a couple of people before he finds one that turns him on the most, so they start telling each other what they’re doing to one another, and in a moment of passion, she begs him to strangle her with a dead cat so she can cum. Clearly, Theodore wants nothing to do with this, but awkwardly, he soldiers on, talking about looping the cat’s tail around her throat.

Not that it’s all crude, of course. Remember, Jonze is also great with beauty, and his flashbacks to Theodore’s romantic life with Catherine are enough to remind even those of us with the hardest hearts of the wonderful feeling of being in love. The scenes where Theodore and Samantha go out on dates should be ridiculous, but Jonze manages to make it seem perfectly reasonable and even heartwarming.

There is only one problem with this film: the ending. It’s as if Jonze had this great idea for a story, but he had no idea how to conclude it. Instead of figuring out the puzzle, he decides to go with whatever the opposite of deus ex machina is. It’s easy to see why he ended it the way he did, but it’s not very satisfying at all.

Don’t let that stand in your way. This movie is perfect up until the end, which is a letdown, but it’s not so bad it ruins the rest of the story. It will remind you of youth and the joy of being in love. It will also remind you of the arguments and anger that you almost always forget when looking back on your life. See it immediately.

No comments:

Post a Comment