Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Leave it to the auteur enfant terrible Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) to push the bounds of the love story, by creating a kind of valentine to the late author J.G. Ballard or Orwell.
None other than the dramatic scofflaw Joaquin Phoenix stars as the hesitant and tongue-tied Theodore, an electronic love letter composer. His face is one single knot with a brown mustache that looks like a scrub-brush. His mahogany charcoal-hardened glasses appear welded on his face. Theodore's environment is one of flat, wall screens and corners. His only human interaction is with his longtime college friend Amy (Amy Adams) and his ex-wife's lawyer via phone relay. The rest of the time he is haunted by harmonic memories of his wife (Rooney Mara). Although we don't know what happened between them, we don't need to. Suffice to say, Theodore is left bereft, a shadow of his good natured self, perhaps a bit too passive or a bit too closed when the chips were down.
On a whim, Theodore goes to a software kiosk and purchases a new highly advanced operating system for his devices. He thinks that it is a mere office and word processing program, but soon learns that it is a highly personal and empathic software world with human emotion, complete with a feminine spirit. With the astonishment of Dr. Frankenstein, Theodore realizes that this program (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) has a highly adaptable and sensual intelligence. After some awkward fumbles, he accepts with surprised satisfaction that this may be just as good as having a human girlfriend. The program "Samantha" is eager, interested, and without judgment.
If only Apple's Siri was like this.
After a couple disastrous stabs at human romance: one ridiculous phone call involving a dead cat and one possessive blind date (Olivia Wilde), Theodore gets more attached to "Samantha". She listens. And with one lilt and curl of her beseeching, bewitching voice, Theodore gets sexually aroused.
The two have phone sex of sorts.
Theodore becomes forever connected and wired in, a white microphone in his ear that resembles a hi-tech seashell, a love charm from a cyberspace mermaid. Theodore is seduced by The Call with a smartphone camera in his pocket (patent leather in brown and white) a 21st century clamshell, a wallet of love.
"Samantha" handles all his appointments and the two go on virtual vacations, through parks and winter retreats. They share photos and "Samantha" treats Theodore with emotion and caring, very much as a girlfriend or wife would.
Some humor is had when Theodore's peers press him to bring Samantha around (let's double date!) Phoenix is wonderful as an Everyman both vexed and released by the confusion of this newfound relationship. Sometimes, he is wildly free and untethered. At others he is withering and morose. Theodore seems pursued and blighted by an unseen unknown female, more toxic than his wife. He can only unwind and be himself with his amorous bodiless confidante.
Soon "Samantha" wants more. More human experience, more knowledge, more wanting, simply more.
Theodore is at a loss.
After a catastrophic attempt with a human surrogate for the throaty virtual vixen, "Samantha" becomes less intimate and far removed, so to speak. Her "personality" engages with other clients and systems. One in particular is named after the philosopher Alan Watts, in system form, he is a stentorian academically aloof know- it-all.
What follows is a very visceral scene, and all the success is due to Phoenix who makes it all so believable with a bit of black humor. Not since Gene Kelly, have I seen a person so at ease in his body. Although this is a moment of heartbreak, there is great frenzy and motion here, showing the real crux of loss, as is. Phoenix is running, falling, sliding and he expresses the romantic tragedy in himself as a dance.
The most telling parts of "Her" portray our world as emotionally starved and subservient to super smart machines. But most vivid is the Orwellian character of Theodore and his vexation in wanting "Samantha" to be both human and moral, even empathetic and exclusive. But alas, by not having a human body or mind, this female-ish system is free from compassionate loyalties.
This is a morality tale that is a little Stanley Kubrick, a bit "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but by film's end, unmistakably all Spike Jonze.
Write Ian at email@example.com