– Summary –
Director : Spike Jonze
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johannson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Matt Letscher, Portia Doubleday, Voices of Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Soko, Brian Cox, Spike Jonze.
Approx Running Time : 125 Minutes
Synopsis: In the near future, a name falls in love with his sentient computer Operating System, Samantha.
What we think : As with most Spike Jonze films, Her is uniquely visual, ethereal and (often) weird – in a good way. The film seems rather trepidatious, almost timid, in its tone, although both Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams do a lot to give this story a voice. Scarlett Johannson, who replaced Samantha Morton as the voice of Samantha (?), is sexy and cool, imbuing a sentient computer with passion and, ironically, more life than Phoenix’s withdrawn and placid Theodore. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worth a look.
Somewhere, Bill Gates is planning this out.
I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with my personal computer. At least, not with the machine itself, although the same cannot be said for the… ahem, material I’ve viewed on it. Human/machine relationships have (weirdly) long been a staple of the science fiction realm, from television shows such as Star Trek, to movies like Electric Dreams, the concept of a human loving a machine, or a machine a human, is something filmmakers and storytellers have explored for years. Not that a machine/human relationship could ever truly be consummated like an all human one, but whoever said all sci-fi had to be realistic. Her, a semi-sci-fi film from Spike Jonze, delves deeper into this conundrum in a way that almost, kinda makes sense, considering we’re not far from sentient computers now. Consider Apple’s ubiquitous Siri, a forerunner to film-fantasy computer AI simulations, was given a sexy female voice by the conglomerate. Siri understands almost all human commands and words (although she’s not perfect) and for those she does not, offers some suggestions in their place. How long until Siri, or her inevitable upgrade, becomes fully self-aware, a learning AI system that can not only mimic human interactivity, but respond with depth, feeling and emotion? Her offers us a glimpse into this world.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is lonely, introverted, and about to be divorced from his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara). He works for an online handwritten letter company, providing personalized love letters for people who – like him – cannot express themselves to another. Theodore decides to upgrade his computers operating system to one with artificial intelligence, one which will grow and learn with time, and he names this OS Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson). Samantha and Theodore engage in conversation and, over time, they connect in ways Theodore hasn’t yet experienced with a living woman. Theodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher) are having marital issues, and Amy resorts to using a similarly enhanced OS for herself. Theodore and Samantha’s relationship goes to the next level, as Samantha arranges a surrogate “partner”, a human avatar for her personality, in the form of Isabella (Portia Doubleday), with whom she hopes to experience actual physical contact with Theodore. Slowly, however, Theodore’s fears and prejudices begin to create cracks in his relationship with Samantha, and when he learns that she hasn’t been entirely…. faithful to him, he is forced to confront his own fears and failings for the first time in many years.
After the enormous critical acclaim, the rave reviews and the cinema love from my fellow bloggers, I somehow expected to enjoy Her a lot more than I did. Don’t get me wrong, I think Her is a nice, sweet (if somewhat melancholy) film, but I don’t see why everyone is going ga-ga about it. In saying that, I didn’t think much of Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are, another film which bore the brunt of critical acclaim and yet fell flat with yours truly. So I guess he’s two for two in not-quite-impressing-me. Her has plenty of praise, thanks to Jonze’s terrific script, great sense of location, and the work of Joaquin Phoenix to sell the world in which he lives for this film, yet I came away wondering exactly what all the fuss is about. Sure, Jonze has a keen eye for detail, and his films tend to be more poetic than the mainstream pipeline, but the film tried to be too much with so little, and ended up being more frustrating than entertaining.
The story is simple (although, as my wife said: “he falls in love with his computer?”), and there are only a few characters around which events revolve. Dominating the film is Joaquin Phoenix, as Theodore, a softly spoken lone-wolf who dreams of a better life and a happy relationship, if only he can get past his fractured, acrimonious relationship with his ex-wife. Phoenix does these kinds of roles well, with that hang-dog look of remorse and sorrow etched across his moustachioed face, and as Theodore I bought into his character completely. Amy Adams, the other major human player in the film, seems more like a bedraggled housewife than she ought, considering what she does in the film, but Adams makes her believable and utterly convincing as one of Theo’s friends. Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha, the OS, and brings a nice sense of virginal discovery throughout her early scenes with Theo, before becoming more emotional and “human” by the end, as she and Theo have their squabbles. Listen for Kristen Wiig as a sexy kitten (ha!), and Brian Cox as another OS with whom Samantha and Theodore interact.
Her is set sometime in the near future. Computers, and our dependence on them, have become almost symbiotic in nature; Bluetooth-style earpieces connect everyone with their personal OS, accessing information without even needing a tablet or cellphone. Pocket-sized devices, which serve as portable information displays (like a mini-tablet) are used when visual information is required, otherwise we see a lot of people wandering about seemingly talking to themselves. This world of immersive computers and the interconnectedness of everyone is ironically the one thing Theodore cannot seem to bring into his personal life. Something of a loner, almost an isolationist, he dreams of the perfect life with someone, although his dreams seem to never quite live up to reality. As he spends time at work (providing others with words he obviously cannot say to his wife, or to anyone else for that matter) and home, we begin to see a drudgery, a self-inflicted wound of emotional deadness, seeping into his personality. Theodore isn’t the most likeable protagonist a film ever presented, but he’s interesting in that he reflects a lot of the disconnectedness of society today, even in our instant-internet world.
I felt Her lacked accessibility, the profound message the film tried to impart lost amongst the amber lighting and emotionally drained characters. Everyone just looked strung out throughout the film, as if they couldn’t get enough sleep. Jonze’s visual style gives this film a lyrical, almost otherworldly quality, and the languid pacing (and acting) works for the strength of the movie, yet all I got from it was distance. I kept feeling like I was being held at arms length by this film, somehow. I couldn’t “get” it like I wanted. Her is well acted – yes, and well made from a production standpoint (it certainly looks gorgeous), but its vaguely similar flavor to Terrence Malick’s style became more irritating than wondrous. Her is a nice film, a pretty film, but I couldn’t find it a great film.