The lonely, divorced, and insular Theodore has a new operating system on his computer that has a very human-like interface. It is not just like any human, it is Theodore’s ideal woman. He falls in love with a woman whose only drawback is that she is a computer program. Spike Jonze writing and directing takes a not very promising premise and creates a many-faceted Science Fiction film that nicely covers many different themes.
Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
‘Iv you could zee her through my eyes … she vouldn’t look zoftvare at all.’
We have come a long way from Mister Paperclip.
At first thought, the idea of a human-computer romantic relationship that is like a human-human relationship is neither a promising nor an original idea. It was used almost fifty years ago on ‘The Twilight Zone’ (February 14, 1964) as ‘From Agnes–With Love.’ This is hardly a plot that seems fertile to try once again. Spike Jonze, who directed some good films like ‘Being John Malkovitch’ and wrote some lesser works like episodes of the TV show ‘Jackass’ (which he also created), for the first time directs his own script. He gives us an intelligent story that feels not just believable but almost inevitable. Themes included in the story are what will happen to a society when the need for human relationships can be fulfilled by machine. The story is both pessimistic – we are losing our humanity when we can now relate to machines like we used to relate to humans – and optimistic: people who have a hard time relating to humans can now fill those gaps in their lives with electronic surrogates. These are almost opposite points of view and like a piece of fine crystal, this story shows the world differently depending on from what angle you look at it.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore. Though this is a very near-future story, Theodore is in an occupation that does not exist yet. For people who want to live with traditional values or at least make it appear like they do, he writes emotional letters for his customers, appearing like they are in the handwriting style of the customer. If you want to send a nice message to your mother on Mother’s Day, Theodore will compose and create the letter making it look like you wrote it yourself with beautiful words and sentiments. Theodore has a very good feel for other people’s emotions, but since he separated from is wife he is emotionally detached and no longer seems be able to find a girl that he wants a relationship with. He is to the point when he prefers playing videogames to dating. In spite of a great looking apartment and greater looking women, he cannot bring himself to be romantic with them.
But then Theodore puts a new operating system on his computer. It has a complete human personality for its interface and is designed to meet the customer’s needs, even if it means building a whole personality, superbly compliant, ready to do as much as software can possibly do. It calls itself Samantha and speaks with the voice of Scarlett Johansson. Jonze takes us through the Theodore-Samantha relationship’s best and worst moments. Theodore’s best human friend is Amy (Amy Adams) a confidant who is married to a friend of Theodore’s. Another time they could have been good together.
The film is both sad and funny. As with race, some people are quickly tolerant of the ‘software-ness’ of their friends and friends’ friends; others have a hard time accepting it. There are some nice touches. Theodore’s big beautiful apartment building’s elevator casts tree shadows on its back wall to give a feeling that it is right there in nature. However, when we look out Theodore’s windows there is nothing natural to be seen outside the window. There is just skyscrapers, man-made things that have taken the place of anything natural.
Jonze seems to be of the opinion that flesh and blood is better than software, but he stacks the deck. There are multiple women, intelligent, pretty, and sympathetic. If Theodore had been ugly (as it is, he is no winner) and nobody was interested in a relationship with him, a program like Samantha might be a real boon. For such a person who does not have Theodore’s advantages, the message that he should have a real human relationship is rubbing salt in a wound.
The film gives a nice little cameo role for Brian Cox.
There are two problems I have with the film. It is hard to believe that in Theodore’s line of work he would have such a fabulous apartment. Jonze may be saying that there is nothing left of the city but huge skyscrapers and all apartments get great views, but I do not buy that. An event occurs toward the end of the film that if it really happened would have a heavy and worldwide impact. But nothing like that is ever mentioned. There is only so much that can be done with what is basically a ‘Twilight Zone’ plot. Through some sort of alchemy Jonze surpasses that barrier again and again and again.
I rate HER a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2014