Whilst it is difficult to imagine anyone having a deep intimate relationship with Windows 8, this is the central premise of this story, albeit with a much cooler Operating system (OS1).
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter writer in the near future, he creates crafted personal notes to family, friends and lovers for those without the time or skill to complete their own correspondence. These notes are “hand written” by voice into a computer and range from thank you notes to Granny to steamy love notes.
This work is completed in a pastel hues, gentle, quiet office environment where everyone is pleasant to each other and everyone is searching for some meaning in their life.
Theodore is a bit hopeless at relationships, to say he over-thinks them would be an understatement. Clearly this has had some bearing on his current status, on the brink of signing divorce papers with his soon to be ex wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). A blind data with an acquaintance (Olivia Wilde) highlights the difficulties with real relationships Theodore is dealing with.
Theodore does enjoy a strong platonic relationship with long time friend Amy (Amy Adams), herself going through something of a crisis of confidence.
If this all sounds a bit existential then fear not, it is not as complicated as it sounds.
Retreating into himself, Theodore installs the latest software on his home machine “OS1”, a brand new Operating system that learns. Once extensive questions have been asked, “Did you love your mother” etc, the install is complete, choose a male or female voice, “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson) would I suspect be the default choice of at least 50% of computer users.
Everything is fine, just use voice commands to open and read email, arrange your diary, just like SIRI on steroids.
However, OS1 can do so much more, it can learn, predict your behaviour, tidy your email, rock you to sleep at night with not a single “in-app” purchase in sight.
The film from left field director Spike Jonze dares to explore the big questions, what does it mean to be human, if a relationship is formed does it matter whether it takes human form or not?
The story is set in the “near future” everything feels real and recognisable but is slightly off, everywhere is pastel shaded, the cityscape is an amalgam of everywhere, people wear trousers with high waistbands, everything is just different enough to suggest this is set not quite here and now.
Phoenix is as usual excellent, both paralysed by loneliness but also crippled by introspection. “OS1” is perfect, it anticipates his foibles, does not question and is always there for him when turned on but by definition, is easily ignored when “off”. Johansson makes for a very pleasant OS, which may encourage users to shut down windows inappropriately, just to be gently chastised in that soothing voice. Adams makes a difficult part seem real and Chris Platt gets a look in with an actual screen presence after his “awesome” voice turn in “The Lego Movie”
How far the relationship progresses is the subject of the film. Friends and relatives accept Theodore’s “electronic” other half perhaps more easily than they might in today’s reality. Having said that, in real life older people are trialling robotic pets (“Paro” by AIST) in nursing homes and finding real joy and companionship, so who knows.
Perhaps the question, can people love something that provides a facsimile of human or animal behaviour, is asked and answered. Arguably the only question remains, do we really want our surrogates to be more like human beings with their petty, jealous and occasionally irrational behaviour or something else again?
Next time you are on the bus count how many people talk to each other, compared to those looking at or interacting with their mobile device, maybe higher waistbands are just around the corner.
There are faults in the film, the “surrogate” scene is perhaps not necessary and is uncomfortable to watch, possibly deliberately so. The in movie computer game is fun to start but gets old rather quickly with more F- Bombs than is really necessary for a more mature target market.
An interesting, occasionally disturbing glimpse into the near future, which is all too recognisable in many ways, suggesting real human contact is what might ultimately save ourselves, from ourselves.
Sounds deep but remains very watch-able with good performances from all concerned