Monday, 17 February 2014

Out in the cold

Family Day is a Canadian holiday that has only been around for a few years, born of a yearning to have some sort of long weekend in February, the shortest month that is still too damn long.

In Ontario, it was today (it was last Monday in British Columbia), so the Resident Fan Boy took the day off and we cast around for something to do with younger daughter that didn't involve a museum. We all like museums but they're hellish places to be on Family Day, because there's usually a windchill and everyone is looking for indoor pursuits.

With the Oscars coming soon -- albeit mercifully delayed by the Winter Olympics this year -- we decided to catch Her at the Rainbow Cinema, a second-run venue in the bowels of the St Laurent Shopping Centre.  I had a rough idea of the premise of the movie, a fairly time-honoured one of a human being bonding with a computer: shades of Electric Dreams, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Robot & Frank, etc.

We arrived at the shopping mall by bus and found it locked for Family Day.  Unfazed, we set off around the outside of the complex, the signs assuring us that we could access the movie theatre "at the entrance between Sears and the business college on the south-west corner".  We headed confidently for the door we had used the last time this had happened, an Easter long weekend a couple of years ago, and were startled to find it locked with the same notices directing us to the south-west corner.

It's a pretty hefty hike around the edges of the shopping centre and this was a bleak morning with a windchill of -23.   We had arrived in plenty of time, but we kept encountering padlocked doors with the identical posters. We were also running into more and more would-be cinema-goers, including an older fella who told us he had seen people leaving the first door we had found locked.  After nearly circling the complex, we made our way back to the door that we had used before, where a crowd was gathering, several people on cell-phones.  We told them about the other locked doors.  ("Did you try them all?" asked one suspicious young woman.)  Finally, someone got through and informed us,  "It's one level down."

We trooped down a cement staircase and through a parking level, fuming at the uselessness of the signs.  We arrived with five minutes to spare for our movie.

"This one is subtitled for hard-of-hearing.  Do you mind?" asked the box-office lady.

We were delighted.  Younger daughter has always found having "words" a big help in following the plot, and my own hearing has never recovered from too many hours listening to rock on the headphones in my misspent youth.

Besides, Her is a movie about people who live mostly inside their heads, so a lot of words are involved. The story is set in a rather sterile Los Angeles of the presumably not-distant future.  These Angelenos move through a landscape of corridors and tall buildings.  The colour schemes feature browns, beiges and oranges and everyone is dressed in casual, nondescript sort of clothing and seem to be in the same income bracket, having spacious uncluttered apartments and plenty of free time.

We meet Joachin Phoenix's character Theodore, a gentle and wounded man who makes a living working for a company that writes personal letters for people who neither the time nor talent for personal correspondence nor even the experience, but have some sort of nostalgic yen for it. He drifts through his day in a lonely haze, in the last stages of a divorce from a woman he has known since childhood (portrayed, because this is L.A., by a woman who is eleven years younger than Phoenix).  This changes when he purchases an "OS" (operating system) for his computer, an intuitive programme that names herself Samantha by consulting a book on baby names in the second between when he asks her name and when she gives her answer.

Samantha's personality emerges and develops by leaps and bounds with exposure to Theodore and like most technology, he becomes increasingly dependent upon her, and unlike most technology, a very personal relationship grows between them.

It's quite a long movie, just over two hours, and I had plenty of time to imagine many different outcomes -- all of them tragic.  The actual outcome is gentler than one would expect, and I was left with all sorts of questions about what makes a relationship genuine.

In a world full of daily superficial interactions, is a deep friendship with someone lacking a physical body not really a friendship?  So much of my correspondence these days is with people I never see.  And you know, I couldn't help but dream about younger daughter having a constant and accessible companion tailored to her needs, even though this movie neatly illustrates the hazards.

You wouldn't think a movie about people living mostly in their heads and online would be sexually graphic, but in many ways, the imaginary sex is more intense for not being seen.  Thus younger daughter,  an autistic adolescent who is really more comfortable with animated kids' films despite being in her latter teen years, spent quite a bit of this film with her hands covering her face.   She says she liked Her anyway, and she was clearly delighted to recognize Amy Adams.

I'm usually a bit more careful about checking advisories, though.  I doubt younger daughter would appreciate Dallas Buyers' Club or American Hustle, even though the latter has Amy Adams in it as well. (When I initially suggested Dallas Buyers' Club, she admonished me: "Mawwwwm!  I'm a teenager!") I'll probably have to sneak off to see those on my own before the Oscar ceremonies.

We checked the doors when we left the cinema by the upper level.  They were unlocked by that time.

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