Posted by: ckckred | January 13, 2014

her

her-620x336

What is love?  What are the means and conditions that qualify a true romance?  Spike Jonze has always pondered on these questions in his films, depicting characters trying to discover their endearment as well as themselves.  her approaches this subject even more directly than Jonze’s past work, asking what can really apply as love.  With material this deep, some moviegoers might be surprised that the premise of her is “a man falls in love with his operating system.”  But Jonze does not use the subject for cheap and easy laughs, instead providing an existential view of romance.  In fact, her is the best picture Jonze has done to date and the grandest vision the filmmaker has had.

Taking place in an unspecified date in the near future, her centers on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a site that scribes letters for loved ones and individuals.  Theodore is efficient and profound at his job (a fellow coworker describes him as “part man, part woman”), emphasized by Jonze in the opening scene, when Theodore dictates a beautifully resolute letter, filmed in a close-up shot to show the truthfulness of Phoenix’s facial expressions.  Yet Theodore does not take any pleasure in his work.  His wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has left him and though she wishes for a divorce Theodore is still in love with her.  He’s emotionally unstable and cannot hold his grief from others; a blind date with a woman played by Olivia Wilde goes wrong as Theodore admits to her he does not see a future between them.  Theodore’s best friend Amy (Amy Adams) has the same problem: she is currently working on a documentary that’s going nowhere and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher) seems apart from her.  Theodore’s life moves in no direction, as his pleasure mostly results in video games or listening to phone sex lines (which features a cameo by Kristen Wiig).

Theodore soon discovers change as he buys a new operating system, which has artificial intelligence.  After installing the software, he is greeted by an A. I. voice (Scarlett Johansson), who quickly names herself Samantha.  Samantha is chirpy and charming, whose upbeat personality and multifaceted nature quickly appeals to Theodore.  After both reveal to each other their innermost thoughts and feelings, they undergo a deep affair.

With its bizarre comic devices and wide and diverse variety of characters, her bears the stamp of Jonze collaborator Charlie Kaufman.  While Jonze wrote the screenplay himself, her shares Kaufman’s creative ambition and melancholic and wry tone in pictures such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  But her feels different from the Kaufman brand, perhaps a bit more hopeful at parts and worldly infused with its commentary on future society; people dress in high and uptight pants, wear ear buds, and watch handheld monitors (Jonze also manages to emphasize the similarity of Los Angeles of the future to today; in a stunning tracking shot, the director reveals the smog filled sky and organized structure of the city).  Though Jonze had been developing the concept of her before Apple had released Siri, the director provides commentary on our reliance on technology, whether it helps us grow as people or hinders our personal development.

The spirit of her, though, is the relationship between Theodore and Samantha.  Jonze poses many philosophical questions about the couple: is Theodore only doting on Samantha because of his repressed emotions?  Are Samantha’s actions a result of programming or true love?  Can a romance between a man and machine really be maintained?  Whatever the case, Jonze keeps all seriousness with his material, even in the most intimate of moments; a sex scene between Theodore and Samantha (I will not spoil the logistics) might sound like a gag from a raunchy comedy but there’s a whole level of emotion in there that not a single person in the theater I attended laughed or even snickered.  It takes a professional filmmaker to handle such weighty material without succumbing to weaker instincts and Jonze fits that bill.  her exemplifies Jonze’s attentiveness as a director and writer with its deep intricacy and complex themes.

The cast of her also deserves much praise.  Joaquin Phoenix is perfect for the part of Theodore.  Like Freddy Quell in The Master, Theodore is a lost soul searching for honest and truth, which may be built in the persona Phoenix has developed in his acting skills.  Scarlet Johansson may only be giving a voiceover, but her role as Samantha seems more poignant than most characters in other films of 2013.  She provides the warmth of Samantha, making the operating system feel not like a robot but a real person.

Much like what A. I. Artificial Intelligence did over a decade ago, her contemplates on the ability for machinery to love.  Spike Jonze has continually proven himself to be a director of master class and he delivers the most thought-provoking picture of 2013.

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Responses

  1. Very good review (in the sense that I enjoyed reading – I haven’t actually seen the film yet as it’s not out here). It sounds fascinating and having enjoyed Jonze’s previous films I’m really looking forward to this.

    • Thanks! I’m a big fan of Jonze and I think this is his best picture.

  2. You can’t go wrong with the originality of Jonze’s work and this sounds like more of the same. Great review, man. Can’t wait to see it.

    • Thanks! Jonze always does great work and her is his best to date. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Seriously great review, man. This was definitely a great movie, one that’s still resonating with me, but you pretty much hit the nail on the head with what makes this movie so profound. Good stuff. 🙂

    • Thanks! I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it on Saturday night and the more I ponder on it, the more I like it.

  4. Nice review man! Lots of people have really responded to this film. I’m posting my take tomorrow.

    • Thanks! I’ll check your review out.

  5. Great review. I wouldn’t call it the most thought provoking picture I the year, but I agree that it is an excellent film. And Jonze’s best to date.

    • Thanks! (SPOILERS) I thought the ending where all the O. S.’s leave their owners said something about development of artificial intelligence as well as if Theodore had grown from the experience. I agree this is Jonze’s best.

      • Oh. Don’t get me wrong. I do, too. I just gave this an A- and called it wonderful in the review I wrote a few hours ago.

        I just think 12 Years a Slave, Wadjda, and Stories We Tell even more thought provoking. 😉

        It’s not a commentary on Her. Her is awesome. It’s a commentary on the other movies. 😉

  6. Top review man, really excited about this one.

    • Thanks! Hope you like it.

  7. It’s interesting that their future society is really not much different than our own. It’s distinctive enough to seem not of this time, but still similar enough to be relatable. That’s one of the things that makes Her so effective.

    Great review.

    • Thanks! I agree, the familiarity of the future is what makes Her feel so real. Jonze is such a talented director.

  8. “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. After reading that opening sentence, that’s immediately what I thought of :). Sorry, anyway, amazing article, my friend! I loved this film and you are too right in that this is definitely one of the most thought-provoking flicks of the year.

    • Ha, I guess I walked myself into that one.

      Thanks! There a lot of interesting questions asked by her and I look forward to catching this again. The past month has been great for film.

  9. Great review! Funny but I barely remember A.I. from a while ago but I think I will remember this one for years.

    Yeah, that sex scene was fortunately handled with care, it could’ve been lewd and more gimmickry but like you said, it was quite emotional. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the most emotionally-gratifying film I saw in a while.

    • Thanks! I was surprised how serious the sex scene one. Jonze doesn’t try to play it for laughs but really makes it emotionally tense.

  10. One of the most beautiful romances I’ve seen on the big screen in a long while, even despite it being between a talking-box and a human. Even then though, I didn’t care too much and just accepted it for what it was. Good review.

    • Thanks! I agree, it’s a complex idea that shouldn’t work on paper but succeeds so well.

  11. Great review man, one of the best I have seen on this film. It opens here in a couple of days so looking forward to seeing it sometime soon.

    • Thanks! I think this is the film of the year for me, really amazing picture.

      • Caught it last night. I was a massive fan. Enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting actually.

  12. Great review mate. Good golly, I’m looking forward to seeing this!

    • Thanks! A strong contender for the best of the year.

  13. Hey great review! I also enjoyed he movie as much as you did (actually it’s one of my favorite ones released this year – if only I had waited with writing my top movies of the year list post!) and am looking forward to reviewing it!

    Dorian

  14. Great review. You’re right, this concept could have easily gone off the rails, but Jonze did the right thing by treating everything seriously. I loved how Theodore and Samantha even did a double date that wasn’t awkward at all.

    • Thanks! Jonze does do an excellent job with the material and really keeps a stern handle with the characters. I loved how he managed to show the intimacy between Theodore and Samantha.

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