Monday, March 31, 2014

Current Reels: The A.I. relationships in Her show us what it means to be human

Better bonding through A.I. - Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix.

A friend and fan of my blog Will Siss, who runs his own successful blog at Beer Snob critiquing craft beer (and really, what goes together better than a good movie and some good brews) suggested that I do a comparison with Her and Lars and the Real Girl, which was my movie pick this past Valentine’s Day.

While they are very different films, the heart of both is how successful relationships, no matter how unconventional, help take us out of our solitude and make us evolve into better people. It also tears open the envelope that we tuck all of our secret attractions into – those hidden desires and wants that we can’t talk about in polite company, but are real and vital to us all the same. I firmly believe in the notion The Princess Bride taught me – we are as real as the feelings we feel. 

The film takes place in disturbingly not-too-distant future Los Angeles, centering on the quiet life of Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix dressed in his best hipster suits), a writer who composes "personal, handwritten" letters on his work computer for people that don’t have the time or the talent to do so. (Think Cyrano for the digital era.) Indeed, the writing makes Her tick, and why I am pleased it won the Oscar for best original screenplay. Director and writer Spike Jonze seems to have found a happy middle ground between his more pedestrian works such as Jackass and the ultra-meta muddle that was Where the Wild Things Are. For instance, there is a delightful trash-talking A.I. alien that Theodore encounters in a video game he's playing that grounds the film nicely with his pointed reality checks.

A man, the sea, & the love of his life. Photos courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.
There's a lot that Lars and Theodore have in common - Lars is painfully shy and can’t get a girlfriend, so he buys a doll off the Internet. Theodore can’t admit that his marriage has collapsed and refuses to sign the divorce papers, so he develops a romantic relationship with his operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who continues to be sexy even in voice only.) They take something nonthreatening, something outside themselves, and use it as a security blanket, but in both instances, that step inevitably leads them to rolling out of their comfort zone and facing the hard truth that while romantic relationships are wonderful, they are also a lot of hard work. Amy Adams does backup in a small but important role as Amy, Theodore's human friend who has formed a less intense but still valuable relationship with her OS as well. 

Her demands patience; the story's spool unwinds with slow deliberation that made me realize how fast-paced and action-packed most films nowadays are. It is a slow walk through the park of someone's private life - surprisingly sensual, unexpectedly complex, incredibly deep. I found myself at one point going a bit pink in the dark theatre during a particularly impassioned sequence, even when there was absolutely nothing explicit being shown on the screen. The futuristic atmosphere is enhanced by part of Her being filmed in Shanghai, a great center of otherworldliness. I can recall a very specific evening in that city in 2011, wandering around the half-deconstructed behemoths from the 2010 World Expo underneath arches of fluorescent light, near a sculpture of giant stainless steel dancing bears. Doesn’t get more surreal than that.

The result of Her is a truly unconventional love story that addresses our innate problem with change, and it is a problem because EVERYTHING changes - even operating systems. Technology evolves, people evolve, and life takes couples down different roads and isn’t always kind in making those roads converge in convenient ways. "The past is just a story we tell ourselves," says Samantha at one point. It is appropriate the line is hers, because as an OS, that statement is literally true. But it is true for us as well. Lars and Theodore show us the only "real" we have is what is happening right now, and we need to appreciate each moment that comes to us, and be open to the possibilities ahead.

Toby sez: Sexy, sweet, and thought-provoking. Tried my patience at times, but the good writing and ultimate message won me over. But did anyone think to get lonely Theodore a cat? 

No comments:

Post a Comment