While Her crafted a science fiction fantasy where an AI companion was so fully inhabited that a human could fall in love with it, the film had to suspend one painful fact of reality: today’s interactive voice response technology kind of blows. And that appears to be the launching pad for Operator.
Martin Starr plays Joe, a frustrated software engineer at Welltrix trying to create Alexis, a vocal response system for call centers. His manager (Retta) isn’t pleased with the disjointed results. That’s when Starr calls his wife Emily, played by Mae Whitman. A hotel concierge, Emily is patient, calming, and supportive; Joe has an epiphany that Emily is the Alexis he’s been looking for. Soon, Welltrix is on board, and Emily is conscripted to participate. As Emily is relentlessly evaluated, recorded, synthesized, and compressed to extrapolate limitless dialogue, it creates a pressure on her marriage. Joe becomes focused on the digital avatar that Emily has been poured into, while Emily grows less comfortable with birthing her own two-dimensional self.
Though the notion of a disembodied female AI (that isn’t GLAADOS) lends itself to comparisons with Spike Jonze’s Her, Operator seems more grounded in today’s growing relationship with artificial intelligence, asking questions about digital fixation in a (hopefully) more subtle way than films like the creaky social media fable Disconnect. Operator is currently in theaters in limited release.