Unsatisfying in the most satisfying way possible, which you’ll understand if you’ve seen it. Touching, and beautiful.
The short and spoiler free version:
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Overall: A sweet, frequently funny yet thought provoking film set in a futuristic (2025) Los Angeles that explores the nature of love and humanity (but not in a way that feels as overwhelming as those words).
Summary: ‘A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.’ -IMDB
The slightly longer version (spoilers start when indicated):
This is a beautiful, though-provoking film. Theodore’s workplace sets an enchanting standard for the light and airy spaces throughout. It feels modern but not unkindly so, cleaner and more practical and not-so-distant in it’s delicate sci-fi touch that doesn’t feel as far away as outer space or fully formed android humans. The spacious-but-not-alienating touch goes through into his house and the absolutely adorable gaming system he owns, his clean-lined bedroom and lounge. Outdoor spaces are well lit and overall it gives the film that not-quite present feel which works well in both a futuristic and mood regard.
Theodore’s job, to compose and send affectionate ‘handwritten’ letters on behalf of family, friends or romantics, is an interesting comment on the displacement of affectionate expression to an outside party, a subtle parallel that reflects on what is to come. Although we would say the feeling from the person sending the letter is no less real, there is question as to the true origin of the words. I think this is a key parallel to Samantha the OS and the questions of ‘real feeling’, projection, and displacement, and is perhaps too easy a parallel to miss. (But you won’t now, muhahaha!)
Yes, Samantha. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who somehow didn’t sound as I expected her to (but still lovely), is the latest operating system (OS) that Theodore downloads to run his technology, including a small earpiece through which he can (and does) do most of the communication with her.
The acting here shines, with Samantha being only a voice and one man (Theodore) holding the vast majority of screentime, you find yourself really invested in his life. Humourous touches are sweetly done (‘What does a baby computer call it’s father? Data.’) but never fully detract from a very thought-provoking story.
I like that, from the start, the judgement on his relationship with an OS comes only really from himself and from one key source (his ex wife Catherine) that has ulterior motives separate from prejudice to use this as a jab. His close old friend Amy is fine and supportive of it, as is his work colleague. This means the bulk of the story can be dedicated to his own relationship with…the relationship, and their interactions.
Another neat storytelling omission is any direct questioning on Samantha’s ability to feel or her humanity or lack of – it’s all unspoken and under the table, and leaves you to make your own mind up, which I think works wonderfully. A direct ‘Theodore what do you think’ would undermine the though-provoking nature that makes this film. Theodore doesn’t directly answer the question, but in his actions it is clear he treats her as a person. Much like a long distance relationship, you could say. In turn, she reacts like one, within reason, although key differences rise up more and more as the film goes on, if they weren’t already apparent.
There is a point where the film might have ended ‘Happily Ever After’, but this film was always about a bit more than the romance, and to leave aspects unaddressed would have been to fail to do itself justice. And thus we explore the ability of a computer to multitask far beyond human capabilities as well as the potential to evolve itself faster than we could teach one; only a short step from the technology we have today, and a much shorter leap still for the imagination.
The ending leaves you with the sort of mixed feelings you expect to have given its subject matter. There may be debate over whether the departure of the OSs has a real reason, but I think if it were simple or clear cut to understand it would rather undermine the suggestion that the OSs could end up capable of something we could never understand.
And so, many introspective questions remain to tease conversation with long after the film is done. Potential plot holes just leave room for more thoughtful exploration of what no film could have time to cover. This includes but is not limited to the totally unaddressed question of what would the consequences of a perfect memory have on a human-esque emotional mind? But then, Samantha wasn’t human. (The perfect memory question, if you’re curious, is kind of explored in ‘The Entire History of You’ episode in Black Mirror. (s1,ep3) Which, coincidentally, is a series also home to ‘Be Right Back’, (s2,ep1) where a woman ends up talking to a virtual imprint of her husband for comfort after his death. I’d highly recommend both of them.)
The film’s final question for me is one of my favourite philosophical questions in general; a question of perception. We are watching it as a generation on the edge of the technology – where it is a dream, believable enough, but still a dream, and our perceptions of Theodore and Samantha are shaped accordingly. But if we were born into their world (ignoring the film’s ending), would we think anything of the human-OS romantic relationships? No, we wouldn’t. It would be another norm, just ‘one of those things.’ And as you take a moment to try and empathise with that non-existent alternate version of yourself in their world, feeling as you never can but in a way you can understand, a being of another space and time, just think…well, that’s Theodore and Samantha’s relationship right there. In fact… that’s every relationship.