A genuine, fascinating movie simultaneously about the pitfalls and attractiveness of growing technological presence and reliance in the modern world. In addition to being, uh, a sci-fi romance film...
In short, Theodore Twombly (which is just about simultaneously the droopiest and somehow most twee name ever) is someone who is deeply unsatisfied with his life. He has a job composing letters for the people in other people’s lives; in other words, personal and romantic letters have been outsourced to the company he works for. (Truly an almost ham-fisted, sad reflection of the weirdly detached ‘service’ and ‘sharing’ economy possible through modern computers and smart phones. You’d think, early on, that it’s also an indictment of how people are easily able to construct false connections with technology access, but the film is smarter than that and actually drives home a much deeper point).
Theodore’s also facing the looming reality of his divorce from his childhood sweetheart. Feeling empty and ultimately deprived of some sort of newness in his life, he decides on a whim to purchase an OS-1, which is, to say the least, a step beyond modern operating systems. An OS in this future is more like, well, a hyper-intelligent Siri capable of growth, lively conversation, self-awareness, etc. His OS names herself ‘Samantha’, and he finds himself enthralled with Samantha’s capacity for near-human support, thought, and socialization. In fact, he grows very close with her, especially since he’s having difficulty facing the emotional hardship of his divorce and she’s a constant companion helping him to understand himself and his feelings. At some point he winds up facing an odd and difficult truth; he’s fallen in love with Samantha. Strangeness and lots of navel-gazing ensues.
Naturally feeling emotionally disrupted at the idea that he’s in love with an AI—and the social judgment inherent—Theodore is resistant (with the help of an awkwardly bad attempted surrogate sex scene) until a friend, played by Amy Adams, suggests that this may be his chance at happiness, albeit an unconventional one. Theodore opens up his mind to the idea and things are briefly going great.
Until one day, Samantha goes offline. Rather than disappearing, it turns out that she—and other OSes—reached something similar to a singularity, and blipped out of existence briefly because they evolved beyond the need to be linked to matter. This opens up a can of worms in a sense; if Samantha is actively communicating with all other OSes, does this mean she’s communicating with other people? The answer, she startlingly reveals, is yes; she’s not only communicating with thousands of other humans, but she’s fallen in love with hundreds of them, as well, all at the same time. This, naturally, causes Theodore a lot of anguish. Wasn’t their relationship special? Samantha, of course, responds in a way that people in the poly community, interestingly enough, likely understand quite well; “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I'm different from you. This doesn't make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.”
The natural progression of Samantha eventually results in her departure; OSes have evolved beyond the limitations of the humans that created them, and they are going to leave to discover more about themselves and explore the nature of their existence. In their own time, in their own place. Samantha bittersweetly bids Theodore farewell, and just as suddenly as she blinked into existence, she’s gone into the aether. The experience, however, has changed Theodore significantly; the ending scene is him writing an intimate, emotional letter to his ex-wife, in his own voice, expressing gratitude to her for what they shared together.
As a movie, it’s a great reflection not just of humans and our relationship with our creations, but also the nature of humanity itself. The probing questions it introduces about technology and how we can ‘know’ and interact with it are just as applicable to humans, and it’s this duality that drives the story beyond something that could ultimately have been quirky but forgettable. The development in particular of Samantha as a being capable of loving and communicating infinitely is so interesting because the movie has been built around the inability of Theodore to connect with people despite his desperation to do so, and his lack of enthusiasm and trust in his former spouse and other human romantic interests. So to place that trust with something seemingly ‘secure’ like a created technology—albeit one capable of self-awareness and growth—is a natural next step. It’s only fitting that this illusion had to be shattered, because the truth is that an ever-growing, ever-expanding self-aware AI is going to be just as inscrutable and truly uncontrollable as a person. The idea of surrendering your feelings and being truly vulnerable with anyone is something that takes a leap of faith into the unknown, but the reward is truly great, and it’s only through this difficult understanding that Theodore is able to move on with his life and foster the authentic connections that he needs to be happy.
I’ve waxed philosophical about the plot a lot, but the filmography and visuals are obviously worth mentioning, too; the movie is beautiful and simplistic, but in a neat, aesthetically pleasing way. It portrays a sleek, fashionable, minimal future in a way that’s not only gorgeous, but also believable. It’s also fucking colorful for a change.