Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Amy Adams and Olivia Wilde
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: February 14th
Set in the near future, Spike Jonze’s film is the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and how he came to fall in love with the new operating system on his mobile phone (Scarlett Johansson). Bringing in themes of urban anonymity and the progression of our interactions with, and dependencies on technology, the film is a not only a musing on human interactions in modern times but is also one of the most effective and convincing romances in years.
The synopsis makes it sound like something Woody Allen would have concocted back in his Sleeper days and there are definitely a few zingers worthy of Allen’s best work. However, Jonze’s direction plays it too numb and too blurred for this to be a simple comedy. It’s a great coup for Jonze as what could easily be dismissed as farce comes across as genuinely moving. Breaking us in easily, through demonstrations of the populace using their voice activated mobiles, how characters interact with avatars in computer games and the use of online services for anonymous sexual hook-ups; Jonze successfully convinces us that this is not too far from feasibly happening.
The idea that better communication technology has only led to mankind becoming more isolated is nothing new. This however is the first time we have seen it explored outside of some sci-fi apocalypse or Catfish-esque children’s television show. Jonze abandons Los Angeles highways for the walkways, showing Theodore as constantly surrounded yet completely isolated. In the few friendships and human interactions we get to see, Theodore is incredibly awkward and guarded. Yet, this doesn’t feel like a warning, Jonze is not rushing to condemn the technology or those who seek to replace real relationships with technology, if anything there is nothing but sympathy for people who find themselves in that situation.
Since his return from his fake retirement Phoenix has been on a roll and delivers another classic performance here. Stooped shoulders, curly haired and moustachioed Phoenix convinces physically as well stylistically as the alienated divorcee struggling for love. Appearing for 99% of the film on screen by himself accompanied only by the voice coming from his phone, it would be a hard task to ask of anyone to carry a film, Phoenix comfortably pulls it off. Johansson, robbed of all acting tools except her voice is also to be commended for bringing life to her role as a phone’s operating system. At least voice actors in animations have a character drawn onto the screen, Johansson’s only screen presence is as the phone in Phoenix’s pocket.
It’s worth considering how much fanfare and attention are put on cultural items created in the first half of the last century for young boys. How the likes of Doctor Who, Captain America and Batman are now marketed at adults. Are we a generation unable to cope with an adult reality? Think of everyone you know who has had or has a boyfriend/girlfriend they’ve never met except in some online chat room for My Chemical Romance fans. Everyone you know who spends hours upon hours playing World of Warcraft. Her is on one hand their sympathetic ear, the explanation to the rest of us of how convincing and fulfilling these artificial relationships can be. Yet, the key point of film comes when Jonze blacks out the screen and lets us just listen to Phoenix and Johansson having sex. It may sound like the most intimate fulfilling sex of their lives but the black screen reminds us of the true, lonely, masturbatory nature.