Spike Jonze writes and directs a SciFi love story set in the not-too-distant future starring Emperor Commodus Joaquin Phoenix. Quirky, soul-searching, and sensitively-portrayed, this film asks us the kinds of questions that we’re used to seeing from films which are usually described as ‘cult favourites’ (which is filmgoer-speak for a movie which wasn’t very well-made, and didn’t quite come together, but presented such a brilliant idea that it is difficult to forget). This one, on the other hand, is very well put-together and has accordingly been nominated for 5 oscars, including best picture.
Theodore is a writer and he is lonely. In what I think is a brilliant metaphor and bit of foreshadowing, his writing job consists of ‘penning’ handwritten letters on behalf of people as part of an online service. As an added layer of awesomeness, these handwritten letters aren’t even handwritten, but dictated to a computer which then gives them the appearance of being handwritten. Theodore himself is only responsible for the content, that is, he writes letters on behalf of people and pretends to be them, projecting whatever emotion is required for the letter.
Teddy is also in the final stages of a divorce. In the midst of all this, he purchases a new operating system for his computer which the makers claim to be the first artificially intelligent OS ever. This is one of the more realistic applications of the concept of AI into our (future) everyday lives. Enslaving the human race is all well and good, as is creating an android child to keep you company in a dystopian future featuring Kevin Costner, but if you really think about it, the first thing we’re realistically going to use AI for is in our everyday devices, to make our interactions with them more pleasant.
So Samantha, as the OS calls herself, becomes Ted’s PA, but the AI is capable of so much more. Before long Ted finds himself in love. And then, as it often is with love between humans and computers, things don’t work out.
Joaquin’s acting in this, as the vulnerable and lonely Ted, is very good, and entirely believable. So too is the voice acting of Scarlett Johansson (whose voice I normally don’t like so much for some unknown reason). Amy Adams features prominently, and Olivia Wilde even makes an appearance as a slightly awkward girl on a blind date, which she pulls off surprisingly well. The film’s production design is also brilliant in that it is so seamless and unobtrusive, very effectively drawing the viewer into a very believable future world.
As much as I enjoyed this film, and it’s questioning about love, relationships, and existentialism, it didn’t stick with me or make the impact that many of the other best picture nominees did. A Cohen brothers film (A Serious Man) from a few years ago left me with a similar feeling, in that it was a very clever, well-constructed, and well-executed film, but it just doesn’t quite resolve its threads well enough.
I would definitely recommend this film, although I have an uneasy feeling that it is the kind of film that might end up being studied in school curriculums at some point in the future, leading generations of kids to despise it. No oscar for best picture I’m afraid, but perhaps one for best original screenplay, best music, or for the production design.