Feb 24, 2014 Film & TV
Directed by Spike Jonze
In a film that relies on futuristic technological developments for its storyline, it’s ironic that one of its most arresting features is the resurrection of the moustache.
Joaquin Phoenix – the star of Spike Jonze’s excellent high-tech rom-com set in Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future – sports a neatly clipped facial number that recalls the full horror that was Tom Selleck in the 1980s, together with unflatteringly high-waisted trousers. But apart from these back-to-the-future fashion details – and a nod to climate change with snow falling in LA – the world that Jonze imagines is not at all dystopic.
Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is a lonely, sensitive writer, who is about to finalise his divorce. He’s friends with Amy (Amy Adams) and her partner Charlie (Matt Letscher), who live in the same high-rise block as him but, apart from contact with them and a god-daughter, he appears to be mostly isolated – which makes the fact he writes moving letters on others’ behalf for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com slightly tragic.
He’s a sucker then for Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), whose husky, playful voice beguiles him when he buys a ground-breaking operating system. It’s full-on artificial intelligence, declaring it is more than “an operating system, it’s a consciousness”. What’s more, Samantha’s “personality” is constantly evolving. She begins by reminding him of appointments, but moves on to editing his letters and then takes it upon herself to submit them to a publisher.
He takes her out for “walks” along city streets and to the beach via his smartphone camera until, eventually, inevitably, they end up in the bedroom (the screen coyly goes dark for this masturbatory episode).
Theodore has fallen in love and, although this seems wacky even to him, he is reassured by colleagues that many other people are doing the same with their OS. As for audiences, the disembodied, intuitive Samantha doesn’t demand too great an imaginative leap, especially if you’ve used a GPS in your car or Siri on your phone.
Theodore’s former wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), predictably, is not impressed (“He couldn’t deal with me, tried to put me on Prozac and now he’s in love with his laptop,” she tells a waiter) but she seems so sour, even in a brief encounter, it’s not hard to see why he’s so taken with Samantha.
Of course, love’s trajectory – even with an OS – never runs smoothly, which leads to a knockout ending to Jonze’s dazzling high-wire act. Among its many virtues, the film is memorable for a sympathetic portrayal of a man who is emotional, vulnerable and unafraid to show it. Even when his supervisor tells Theodore he’s “half-man, half-woman”, it sounds more like a recommendation than a slur.