Theodore’s face takes over the entire screen. He’s looking directly at us, eyes brimming with emotion:
To my Chris, I have been thinking about how I could possibly tell you how much you mean to me. I remember when I first started to fall in love with you like it was last night. Lying naked beside you in that tiny apartment, it suddenly hit me that I was part of this whole larger thing, just like our parents, and our parents’ parents. Before that I was just living my life like I knew everything, and suddenly this bright light hit me and woke me up. That light was you.
He isn’t talking to us but to his computer software which is transcribing everything that he is saying. The e-missive, complete with faux script and blue stationery, is then posted to the recipient.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a surrogate lover, friend, parent, relative – whatever you want him to be as long as it involves writing a letter. It’s what he does, and he’s excellent at it. Although one cannot deny the fact that his deftness is surely the result of years of experience and that his enunciations are the fruit of diligently practiced emoting, the man knows which buttons to push and when.
Unfortunately for him, his adeptness stops short when it comes to himself. He must have written thousands of letters of support and encouragement to jilted lovers but he cannot get over the fact that Catherine (Rooney Mara) dumped him. He keeps reminescing about their time together, remembering the happiest of times in soft focus and slow motion.
Enter Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She (or it?) is a highly developed Operating System that sounds exactly like a human being. Not only that, but Samantha is also inclined to bouts of jealousy, feelings of guilt, a life-affirming proactive attitude and effusions of joy. Samantha is so good that sometimes you forget that she’s just an OS.
This is one of the problems I had with Spike Jonze’s film. The poignancy of Theodore’s predicament, of him finding romantic refuge in lady bits and bytes, is diminished by the fact that the OS sounds so much like a human being, and like Ms Johansson in particular. The actor has a very distinctive voice and her soft features and ridiculously luscious lips and green eyes were cutting capers in my mind whenever she spoke. It sounded as though Theodore had a lifetime subscription to Ms Johansson’s private hotline service rather than direct communication with his computer. The acerbic impact of commuters thumbunicating with god knows who but not speaking to each other, of the perpetually hazy city sky enfolding and excluding everyone from the world ‘out there’, was lost because of this tiny but crucial detail.
As David Cronenberg was wont to tell us over and over again, human beings evolve according to what life throws at them, giving birth to fascinating and terrifying hybrids that simultaneously push forward and hold back the human organism. Social networking is no different. The murky ways and byways of the constant online status, of always being there but rarely within touching distance, certainly affect the psyche that spawned them. In Mr Jonze’s achromatic new world, human beings are nothing but a presence; Theodore’s red garb, it seems, plays second fiddle to what eerily smacks of the kind of religious dogma that amputates the spirit from the flesh. Even cybersex looks just as good as the real thing, possibly better as it is free of the shackles of commitment.
On the other hand, the parameters that constitute and distinguish the ‘real’ from the ‘virtual’, are stretched and then blurred. It’s a bit like waking up from a dream. Depending upon whether it was a good un or a fucked up bitch of a nightmare, you curse your luck or give a sigh of relief. But there is no denying that the feelings experienced whilst REMming it up are genuine, little (if at all) different from the ones outside of Neverland’s post code. her excels in this – just look at that picnic scene.
It’s a pity that I found Theodore so insufferable. Without taking anything away from Mr Phoenix’s amazingly nuanced performance, Theodore is a self-pitying emasculated hipster poster-boy for movembers and manginas. This man would have trouble getting laid if he was the only male on a nudist beach full of horny women. I am quite frankly sick and tired of watching the teary trials and tribulations of men who, to (mis)quote Tyler Durden, are representative of ‘a generation raised by (a chauvinist’s idea of) women’. If this is what the male sex has to look forward to when Mark Zuckerberg’s world domination is complete, then please wrap your smartphones in bras, tie me to a stake and torch me. At least I’ll get a shot at some kind of dignity and, who knows, someone might write a nice letter about me.
- Review of American Hustle (2013) with Amy Adams.
- Review of Side Effects (2013) with Rooney Mara.
- Review of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) with Rooney Mara.
- Review of The Social Network (2010) with Rooney Mara.