Her (2013)

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Her has been making its rounds on the awards circuits with SAG, Golden Globe, Academy Award nominations and wins to boot. This response is not without reason. Her is a landmark film of the modern age.  The harmonious depiction and use of technology allows the film to explore the nature of relationships. Spike Jonze’s latest film is one of those rare, profound movies that really resonate. Whilst watching it, you know it is something special.  The basic premise of the film is that a man falls in love with his operating system.  It not only shows the relationship a man has with his device but beyond that, Her examines the growth and decay of all relationships. The film truly captures the essence of the human relationships. It will leave you feeling lonely, loved, afraid, hopeful, and a barrage of other conflicting emotions. Her makes you feel alive.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is the protagonist of Spike Jonze’s unconventional love story. Theodore’s work involves immersing himself in sentiment. He writes heartfelt letters on the behalf of loved one’s. Unfortunately, Theodore’s own relationships are not so filled with warmth.  Theodore has been divorced for a year. He lives his day-to-day (albeit, depressing) life with good humour but he still misses married life with his ex-wife, Kathryn (Rooney Mara). He still thinks about her. He still dreams about her.  He “keeps waiting to not care about her”. Theodore is not ready to move on. That is until he downloads the first artificially intelligent operating system, the OS. Theodore’s OS names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is incredibly lifelike. Her personality blurs the line between humanity and technology. After a failed blind date (featuring Olivia Wilde), Theodore and Samantha begin a relationship, which is both intellectual and sexual. As it turns out, this is not uncommon. Theodore’s closest friend, Amy (Amy Adams) becomes friends with her OS after splitting with her overbearing husband (Matt Letscher). The film documents the beauty and importance of all relationships both platonic and romantic.

Jonze’s brand of technology is not intimidating or intent on world-domination. The personality of an OS is as close to human as humanly possible. Jonze proposes two philosophical questions. Firstly, can artificial intelligence ever be considered human? In Her, it would seem that the answer is yes. Samantha is self-aware, capable of growth, has a distinct personality, but most importantly, feels human. Furthermore, Jonze implies that physical continuity is not a necessary condition of a human existence. It becomes clear that not only is a human body, not required for a human existence, but there is no requirement for a physical anchor to be able to exist. Secondly, what determines a ‘real’ relationship?  And, are the relationships we develop with non-human objects less valid than those with humans? Well, according to Her, relationships are about growth, and growing with someone else, even if it means growing apart. Samantha’s personality evolves and she becomes evermore sentient – even to the point of being overwhelmed. And strangely enough, just when Theodore thought he had already experienced all the emotion in the world, Samantha shows Theodore the beauty in living, again. So, the definition of a relationship is only refined by its ability to enrich people. This poignant observation allows Spike Jonze to capture the spirit of relationships, confusing as they may be.

Her marks Spike Jonze’s first foray into script writing. His direction and vision has constructed a futuristic but familiar world, which gives the story much more weight than typical dystopian sci-fi love stories. In an interview with The Guardian, Jonze claimed to be inspired by Charlie Kaufman’s approach to writing Synecdoche, New York. “…he said he wanted to try to write everything he was thinking about in that moment – all the ideas and feelings at that time – and put it into the script… a lot of the feelings you have about relationships or about technology are often contradictory.” I felt that this allowed Her to provide a similar viewing experience to that of Synecdoche, New York. Both films were resonant and absolutely vibrant with a depiction of life that is very familiar, despite the abnormal basis of the stories. That is not to say that its script carried the movie alone.

The acting was incredible. To think that a lot of the movie was Joaquin Phoenix talking alone just goes to show how much stage presence he possesses. Scarlett Johansson’s voice brought real light and qualia to Samantha’s character. On top of that, Amy Adams plays downtrodden, but indignant to a tee. Special mention goes to Matt Letscher (who I sadly recognised from The Carrie Diaries) who frustrated me to no end with his well-meaning, but pretentious quips, as Charles, Amy’s husband. Chris Pratt also made his appearances with welcome humour and warmth. All in all, a stellar performance from all. On top of this, the Academy-Award Nominated score for Her is exquisite. Arcade Fire’s compositions narrate the movie perfectly, particularly with respect to Samantha’s own compositions. You can listen to the soundtrack here.

In conclusion, Her is a complete triumph. Few movies, in my opinion, have ever felt this right. There is something in Jonze’s line of work that makes you feel as though you have witnessed something very important. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s there. I have little more to add except that this review does not nearly do the film justice.  I cannot, cannot, cannot recommend Her enough. Head to a cinema now and watch it.

Her (2013): 9/10

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