A tender and also surprisingly devastating romantic drama from Spike Jonze, and a film that took me off guard. I'd been no hurry to see this, and half expected a kind of fluffy, whimsical sci-fi with another Oscar-baiting introspective Joaquin Phoenix performance; but what I found was a whole lot more. Her explores human relationships, what connects us to people, our interaction with (and dependence on) technology, and even offers a glimpse at evolution itself. But it also doesn't take a stance; neither condoning nor condemning the direction in which we appear to be heading; but rather content to muse on the subject matter. Whether or not we become slaves to the digital age, our emotions are the same whatever. It's a mature, well observed, and deeply cogent study of how people come together emotionally, and in many cases, sadly, grow apart.
Presented as a science fiction in which human interaction (including love) has further evolved into the digital age; its shown in a way that feels incredibly plausible. It's set in a very-near-future in which people are more connected electronically than ever before. Not in a bluntly dystopian 'Minority Report' kind of way (which is becoming stale and hackneyed now anyway), but in a natural progression of today's age of internet dating, cyber sex, and increasingly sophisticated computer software. Could we have a world in which we date and fall in love with 'people' who don't even have bodies? Could having relationships with self-aware computers be the next social taboo to be normalised? Those are the least of the questions explored. Ultimately though, the technology takes a back seat to the real emotional connections and needs we have as human beings. And the performances are perfectly pitched; including a revelatory voice-only turn from Scarlett Johansson (who wouldn't fall in love with that smoky, sensual voice?) as well as support from the likes of Chris Pratt and Amy Adams. But it's Joaquin Phoenix's nuanced, human, sad and damaged performance as Theodore Twomby that impresses the most. He's a completely believable character in that he's not just pigeon-holed into a single personality; he's often mopey, awkward, hugely sensitive and a bit of a dork; but he's also witty, gregarious, passionate and energetic. He's complex and thoroughly recognisable. In fact, recognition of my own behaviours and feelings in relationships, dating and divorce is what was so affecting about it.
The mildly utopian (yet still close to home) world presented looks beautiful on disc, thanks to some dreamy cinematography (reminiscent of the gentle beauty of Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation), modernistic set design, and retrained use of special effects. It's also a quiet, dialogue driven and sometimes musical film; so while it wont make huge demands of your system, it has a note-perfect clarity.