Sun 12 Jan 2014
I have no luck this year with the films that are favorites in the race for the Academy Awards. Or maybe they do not do well with me. I liked almost none of the ones I’ve seen so far and I found myself disagreeing pretty much with the audiences and the critics. That was the case with ‘ Gravity ‘ with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, so it is with ‘Her’ made by Spike Jonze, a director of ambitious projects and always interesting to watch . From this point of view I appreciated the movie, I like movies that try to send a message and say things in a different way. Jonze managed to do this with ‘Being John Malkovich’ in 1999, failed with ‘Adaptation’ in 2002, and fails here again IMO, although as I said others differ. At least he does not fail for not trying.
The story takes place in Los Angeles sometime in the not too distant future. It could be 2025 , could be 2030 out there. If more films that anticipated future we deal with image pre- or post- apocalyptic future , in ‘Her’ all social and political conflicts seem to be resolved, and everything is clean and polished . This image of ‘the future if things turn well’ is filmed on location in LA and Shanghai with computer enhancements. It is significant that in order to create the ‘realistic’ Los Angeles future landscape the filmmakers filmed some of the scenes in the Shanghai of today today! Only a semi – permanent haze seems to indicate that not all environmental problems have been solved properly, although the air conditioning seems to work perfectly all the time.
As social conflicts were resolved people seem to have enough time to take care of themselves. The film heroes are not significantly different than the New York yuppies of our time – they are prone to introspection and melodrama , and feel miserable and self- compassionate in breakups . The main character of the film named Theodore (played by the wonderful Joaquin Phoenix holds a job of the future – composing handwritten love letters, of course with the help of computers. Each of the characters , each of the figures that appear on the screen even for a fraction of a second holds in its hand, pocket, or ear the devices which connect them to applications and operating systems . It is a world in which the descendants of the iPhones and the natural extensions of Facebook have become the physical and intellectual extensions of humans.
But what about human feelings?
The main plot of the film begins to unfold when Theodore buys a new operating system for his computers and appliances. Simply called OS / 1 it has not only a phenomenal capacity calculation and a female voice belonging to no other than Scarlett Johansson , It is actually a She. She also has the capability to self-learn, to continuously improve her know-how and make the best decisions for the good of its users.
When Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson are together on screen even if she is only present with her voice, when he is struggling with loneliness in the final stages of a divorce , and she in turn is un-experienced in the facts of life, but willing and able to learn more and do everything for him, Hollywood logic requires them to fall in love , and it does not matter that she is nothing but a sublime collection of algorithms – she acquires the ability to feel and to love. Love is beyond physical connection , that much we know. What the film tries to say is that no matter what we are, no matter how and where we are, as long as there is a feeling there can be love.
I will let you discover how the story ends after watching the movie. Many of the film’s fans were convinced. Some other like me less. A few left the hall before getting to see half of it . One of the difficulties viewing is related to accepting the film convention. Computers have a soul? It’s a question that was already asked by science-fiction writers since Isaac Asimov, or by Kubrik in ’2001 – A Space Odyssey ‘ one of the masterpieces of the genre. Who does not accept the existence of the soul and love beyond strictly human context will have a problem with watching this film which takes the premise very seriously. Otherwise, for these who have a hard time accepting the convention, about half of the film may seem ridiculous, because it is composed of dialogues between Theodore and Samantha (yes, that’s her name on the incarnation of OS / 1 ), that is of Phoenix and a voice from the off. Remember how you find those who spoke on the speaker phones in cars stopped at traffic lights until you are used to the fact that it is not a crazy person talking to himself in the car ?
It is not with the convention that I had trouble watching this movie but with simplistic sentimentality of the plot . What we really have here? A lonely man meets a smart girl , beautiful , and yet inexperienced in life. Together learn to know one another , she learns to express her feelings, she discover him and she understand him, she learns to love and to make love. But there many reasons that men do not understand because of which she cannot only be his. After I accepted effects and was able to disregard them (that is what the director wanted me as a spectator!) I was left with an ordinary and melodramatic romance. And the fact that I know something about the technology behind the film did not help at all in making more interesting. On the contrary .
The basic premise of the film that thinking machines would be capable of feelings, through a simple extension of artificial intelligence algorithms is in my opinion flown. Feelings are not just an extension of human logic, and love can not get perfecting algorithms, adding memory, and increasing speed Internet access.