Directed by Spike Jonze
Originally published on Letterboxd, where I misspelled the director’s last name. This review has gotten the most likes of all my reviews. But that’s no great accomplishment.
I can’t imagine anyone who reads sci-fi more than casually, or even someone who’s seen a decent number of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, and especially anyone who’s read Richard Powers’ prescient and emotionally rich Galatea 2.2 [Amazon] or perhaps a reasonably informed average user of modern computers, doing anything but scoff and laugh at Spike Jonze’s superficial attempt to speculate about artificially intelligent agents in, what? The near future? An alternate universe? Inside his head? Every time someone said “operating system” or “OS,” I cringed.
But since Jonze doesn’t take seriously the sci-fi sources he rips off, thinking about genre and form is probably not the best way to approach this sentimental tale of a lonely, alienated, and anti-social “writer” (I think everything and everyone is in quotes in this movie) who falls in love with a disembodied artificially intelligent agent or software program (a term that’s never used, by the way, even though it’s the most appropriate one, even for idiots) that seems to be everywhere at once, without the benefit of real-world technology (like speakers, for instance) and is on the road to evolving to a higher state of existence.
Samantha’s big monologue, such as it is, when she’s announcing her departure, is lifted nearly verbatim from a much more serious work of imagination, Greg Bear’s Blood Music [Amazon]. He probably borrowed it from someone else which is what all sci-fi auteurs do, except it’s expected that you make it better, not worse.
Yes, it’s all really that simplistic and predictable or else we’re supposed to ignore all the nonsensical details because, you know, it’s a metaphor. Or a simile. One of those. And it’s about love which makes everybody stupid, apparently.
At least with something equally as earnestly arch as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind there was some formal and stylistic experimentation to distract from a similarly twee emotional tone, and you could at least attribute those emotions to adults, more or less. In Lei, a revelatory moment of clarity is provided by a session of…cybersex. This supposed sophisticated and brilliant “OS” ponders the diverse morphology of existence and ends up wondering why our assholes aren’t in our armpits. But she’s just like those 40% of dumb Americans who don’t believe in or understand evolution; so I guess that’s no big deal.
It doesn’t take long to get the feeling that we’re not really dealing with adults in Lei, neither the artificially programmed kind nor the socially programmed kind. Instead, everyone’s treated like a big baby, but maybe that’s really Jonze’s vision of the future, in which case maybe this is a brilliant piece of satire.
So what’s really being explored here explicitly is greeting-card, chatroom grade “emotions” and “ideas” about relationships and how really really fucking hard they are for people weaned on the ultimate value of their own narcissism and we can either choose to attribute this sophomoric philosophizing to the filmmakers or to ourselves. Neither is palatable and whatever courses of action we can infer from the proceedings are sure to fail.
Me, I’m going to opt out.
Do you really want to uninstall Scarlett Johansson? Yes. Empty trash.