Strange Technological Romances on Film

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“It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,” reads the ad for the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system in Spike Jonze’s Her. A romance between Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore and the OS1 (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) quickly ensues. While you decide if Her, which opened in theaters this week, is an eccentric look at falling in love or a manipulative portrait of male loneliness, we looked back at other strange, technological romances on film.

Electric Dreams

Director Steve Barron, who brought us the innovative video for A-ha’s “Take on Me” and oversaw Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” directed an MTV-esque film about a love triangle between a nerdy architect named Miles (Twin Peaks’ Lenny von Dohlen), his sentient computer named Edgar, and Miles’ neighbor Madeline (Virginia Madsen). A rivalry breaks out between Miles and Edgar, which is at turns weirdly dark and comedic. Bud Cort’s voice for Edgar imbues a vivid sense of loneliness and frustration due to an inability to physically connect.

Weird Science

Two high school outcasts (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Anthony Michael Hall) build the perfect woman on their computer (with the help of some Barbie black magic and bras on their heads) and bring her to life. It turns out that Kelly LeBrock’s Lisa isn’t just a sexpot conjured up by two hornballs. She’s an intelligent woman with a big heart who guides the boys through their troubles with the opposite sex and helps them be more comfortable with who they are.

Demon Seed

We would be remiss to call Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed a “romantic” movie, as it centers on a supercomputer’s obsession (and eventual rape and impregnation) with the creator’s wife. It’s the Rosemary’s Baby of the sci-fi world with an oddly prescient message about how technology can consume our lives.

eXistenZ

“I see technology as being an extension of the human body,” David Cronenberg said in a 1999 interview about his movie set in the world of video games and virtual reality, eXistenZ. The director reinvented the concept of a sexual relationship for the film — one shared between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law’s characters: “In a way, you’re seeing new sex, neo-sex, in this movie. Or do you even want to call it sex? It’s obviously inducing some kind of pleasure the way sex does, but what is it?”

Lars and the Real Girl

Thanks to technology, relationships can be forged through the Internet or without another human being altogether. Take Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl, for example. Ryan Gosling’s sweet, but reclusive character falls for a hyperrealistic love doll (aka Real Doll) he buys over the Internet. Eventually his family and neighbors accept the relationship and grow to examine their own feelings about love and openness.

Videodrome

Videodrome is considered the epic of David Cronenberg’s body horror canon — a series of films depicting technology’s influence on the development of the human body and the terrors that exist within. The disease at the center of the film exists within the mind. This is how Max Renn (James Woods) becomes drawn into a hallucinatory relationship with his wanton television (voiced by Debbie Harry) after his transformation into the “new flesh” — side effects from watching a sadomasochistic television show known as Videodrome.

Serenity

Was Mr. Universe’s wife — a lovebot named Lenore — in Joss Whedon’s 2005 space western, Serenity, a precursor for the “dolls” on his TV series, Dollhouse?

The Lawnmower Man

Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, Brett Leonard’s The Lawnmower Man introduces us to virtual reality sex and love through an early ‘90s lens. A simple-minded man is transformed into a genius thanks to an experimental computer program. He beings a relationship with a woman, showing off his god-like powers — and how they can turn ugly during a bizarre romp in the mainframe that becomes overwhelmed by his “primal mind.”

Demolition Man

In 2032, Demolition Man posits that the government and lawmen will control everything — including sex and physical contact. That’s how we wind up watching two cops played by Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock having virtual reality sex during their developing relationship. In this case, we’re happy that “fluid transfer” was outlawed.

Abre los ojos

Before the Wachowski’s Matrix and the shared dreaming experiences of Inception, Alejandro Amenábar was exploring a similar world in Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes). We highly recommend it in lieu of the American remake with Tom Cruise. A Spanish playboy’s life is shattered when his ex-girlfriend tries to kill them both by crashing the car. César (Eduardo Noriega) survives, but is disfigured — and now the woman he loves (played by Penélope Cruz) seems beyond reach. We don’t want to ruin the twists in this exceptional thriller, but we will say that technology intervenes, and César’s increasingly complicated life grows more surreal.