The curse of cancer strikes! We arrived late as I had inadvertently booked the tickets for the day before, something I have never done even in this online era – maybe it was a message that it’s not a perfect world in Spike Jonze’s cyberspace. Thank you nice Everyman for giving us club seats all the same.
I don’t think we missed much as the film is hardly action-packed, despite arriving in the middle of an orgasmic and violent telephone sex scene. I am a bit concerned as I hadn’t realised it is so steamy, but wait, the audience is laughing, it must be comedy sex, so that’s OK.
We soon pick up that Theodore Twombly is miserable, just getting over a failed marriage, but finding it impossible to have the confidence to date or even interact with people. His new status has left him commitment-phobic. His only friend is an ex, the ubiquitous Amy Adams, conveniently living in the same block and with whom he shares a passion for computer games; his only other companion is a Caspar-like CGI child, voiced by Spike Jonze himself. Meanwhile, Amy loves a quirky game, Perfect Mom, more in hope than anticipation.
In a quasi-dystopian cyber world, where even Twombly’s job involves letter-writing for the illiterate and emotionally challenged for the quaintly-named BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, the most natural thing is to start a relationship with his operating system (OS). Voiced by a breathless and sexy Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), it’s not hard to see why he falls madly in love with ‘Her’. After all, you don’t need to commit to a computer who is also your personal organiser, business advisor, and interlocutor.
It’s harder to get one’s head round the fact that she also falls for him, to the point where they are double dating with work-mate Paul. In a surreal scene Samantha, in slim tablet form complete with an all-seeing eye, ‘sits’ on the picnic blanket so she can crack jokes with Paul’s girlfriend. Our loving couple even have virtual sex.
Samantha’s problem is that she wants to be real and tortures herself with how that would ‘feel’. She brings their relationship to a head by introducing Theo to a friend, who wants to help by being a surrogate sexual partner, there physically but silent and armed with sensors so that Samantha can experience the reality first-hand.
Adding to this weirdness is the fact that Theo’s friends accept that he’s dating an OS; later it dawns on us that he is not alone, that most people have OS relationships of one kind or another…creepy.
Joaquim Phoenix, brings his usual professionalism to his role – remember Walk The Line, I’m Still Hereand The Master– and is sublime as nerdy, geeky Theo, with waist-high trousers and a line in cardigans. As in Gravity, the lead actor fills the screen for majority of the movie, showing the whole gamut of emotions from joy to puzzlement and heartache, as Samantha croons in his ear. The other actors slip in and out, including Rooney Mara as the ex, Catherine. In the scheme of things they are unimportant, as it’s all about Theo and Samantha.
With futuristic cinematography – clean, bright lighting, shiny city-scapes, impeccably-designed apartments and funky office space – it’s hard to imagine we are not in outer space. No dirt, no mess, no beggars – even the dancing busker seems to be dazzling in his brilliance. My question is whether Jonze is trying to make a point about social media and the internet taking over our lives to detrimental effect, or whether he is just having a bit of fun by stretching and teasing our imaginations with his virtual girl, who can read our minds and emotions. He is, after all, a bit of an expert in fantasy – Where the Wild Things Areand Being John Malkovitch. Whichever it is, I found it rather unsatisfying as a proposition and, despite Phoenix’s convincing performance, rather flat.