Notes on Netflix: Operator

Operator – Logan Kibens, 2016


Netflix rates it: 3/5

I rate it: 3/5

Operator follows Joe (Martin Starr), who is part of a company attempting to develop an interactive, empathetic caller interface for customers to call when they are unsure of something, such as medical advice. His wife, Emily (Mae Whitman), works as a hotel concierge, and his team discovers she has the perfect voice for their project. At the same time, Emily is starting to put on shows with a comedy group, and taking inspiration from their relationship. Using each other in their work lives only serves to infuriate one another.  Joe’s major bouts of anxiety and panic attacks can only be helped by Emily, but as she lends her voice more and more to his project, he starts to become infatuated with the virtual ‘Emily’ on the other end of the phone rather than his wife.

The film deals with a very real issue; the thought of technology taking over. Throughout the course of the film, Emily becomes dissatisfied with how Joe is ignoring her in favour of her voice, and expresses her distaste at how he sees the virtual her as superior to the real her. Joe refuses to listen, stating repeatedly that the virtual Emily is identical to the real-life Emily. She protests that technology is not real life, and humanity is irreplaceable. This introduces the debate over whether it is right to have the world controlled by machines rather than humans, which is very relevant and thought provoking in today’s society.

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The acting, despite coming from two main actors who have not yet reached the pinnacle of their careers, is brilliant to watch. Whitman delivers an emotive and earnest performance as Emily, perfectly showing her desperation and devastation at her husband’s developing preference for a machine. Whilst the character starts off calming and optimistic, it is impressive to see Whitman’s portrayal of Emily as her outlook on life, and her husband, changes dramatically throughout the course of the film. Starr also portrays Joe well, capturing his anxious and obsessive personality without discussing it outright. He has a robotic element to his personality, which is a stark contrast to Whitman’s character and makes for thought-provoking interactions between the characters. This could be why he preferred the robotic version of his wife, however, the end of Operator sees him trying to take a new direction, which Starr depicts sincerely.

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It’s nice to see such an original idea being brought to the table. Although there are plenty of films about technology, this one has a more human element, which is really interesting. The situation of the characters is truly original, with nothing like it being seen in the same way in a film before. Despite this originality, it is still easy to relate to the characters.

It is unfortunate that Operator feels slow-moving at times, making it slightly less enjoyable, however it hits all the points it tries to make. It should also be noted that on Netflix, this is classified as a comedy – which it is definitely not. Although there are amusing moments, the general feeling is disconcerting, and the thought of its themes becoming reality is an unnerving one. As well as this, the ending feels a bit shallow in comparison to the rest of the film, but nonetheless it’s nice to see a happy ending after the distressing tone of the film’s previous events.

Possibly not a film to watch if you’re looking for simple enjoyment, because it does boast a slightly darker undertone with the messages it presents. However, if you like films that make you think, and appreciate the current values and limits we place on technology, Operator is a meaningful film with great acting and a truly original idea.

-Kathi Bundy


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