Wednesday, 20 August, 2014

Published January 17, 2014
Love me, love my Operating System
Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with Scarlet Johansson's OS voice in an offbeat new film, writes GEOFFREY EU
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In cyber heaven: Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) finds true love in cyberspace with an OS mate called Samantha. - PHOTO: GV PICTURES

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SOME TIME in the Los Angeles of the not-too-distant future, a man and his handheld device develop special feelings for each other - in the weird, wonderful world according to Spike Jonze, whose love story about a guy and his operating system seems almost normal.

Loneliness and longing are the pervasive moods in Her, a sensitive, satirical and thoroughly original film about the social condition and one man's search for the perfect mate. Written and directed by Jonze, Her is both an indictment of our current fascination with hi-tech personal devices - to the exclusion of almost everything else - and a sweet romance with a difference.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) lives a sad, solitary existence, is permanently wistful and sustained by memories of a happier past. He stays in a cool modernist pad and earns a decent living by writing heartfelt online letters for others - but is an abject failure on the relationship front. He's going through a painful divorce with his childhood sweetheart and seems to relish wallowing in his own misery.

This is a commitment-phobic man who drifts through life in a dream-like state and whose idea of a good time is playing virtual computer games and scanning the Internet while indulging in some anonymous online sex.

Theodore is in desperate need of someone to love, and when that someone appears in the form of a newly installed operating system (OS) with artificial intelligence, an ability to evolve emotionally - featuring the voice of Scarlet Johansson - he figures he's onto a good thing.

Samantha - the name the OS gives herself - is a whiz at managing Theodore's life. She greets him in the morning, reads emails to him, composes music and starts to develop emotions. They share their deepest, darkest thoughts and practically finish each other's sentences. Theodore turns her on in more ways than one, and it's a match made in cyber-heaven.

This latter-day Siri (an iPhone application) has brain power and an iBod to match - everything except an actual physical presence, which can be a hindrance when it comes to consummating the relationship. Fortunately, Samantha has a few interesting ideas about how to resolve this. She's curious about the human experience but are her feelings real or are they simply part of her programming?

Everyone in smog-shrouded LA has their own version of Samantha, a socially acceptable necessity that renders the need for real human interaction redundant - or does it? The exception to Theodore's limited social circle is Amy (Amy Adams), a neighbour (and onetime love interest) who also has her own OS friend.

It takes a computer to draw Theodore out of his shell but can it replace the intimacy of a human relationship? Her is touching, funny, provocative and just a little creepy. As the slightly loopy Theodore, Phoenix gives a beautifully nuanced performance while Johansson (or her voice) is both reminiscent of - and a long way removed from - HAL, the smart computer that controls the spacecraft and interacts with the astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Jonze has concocted an ultimate LA love story that examines relationships from a unique perspective, posing some interesting (yet disturbing) questions along the way. The film is a fantasy that - given the pace of modern-day technology - doesn't appear to be all that far-fetched. Go watch it with the operating system in your life.

Rating: B+