Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review - Her

Boy meets computer, boy loses computer in Spike Jonze's Her. But if you think this in any way resembles a typical love story, you'd be wrong... and right. Admittedly, how much you get out of this singular experiment in screen romance will hinge entirely on whether or not you can get past its bizarre premise. If not, you may find it to be unintentionally funny at best. But if you can bring yourself to buy it as more than a farfetched swing-and-a-miss, you may indeed discover a weirdly moving film whose subversive satire and thought-provoking themes border on the profound.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix following up his career-best work in The Master with yet another brilliant performance) can read people, but not connect with them. He works at a company that specializes in writing touching personal letters for people who lack the time or eloquence to do so themselves, and as gifted as Theodore is at anticipating the words that will move his clients, he is a lonely man – smarting from a painful breakup – who fears that he could never again be as moved as the readers of his ghost-written letters.

Right off the bat, Jonze is establishing a sci-fi tinged setting that is not so much unlike our own present, both in terms of aethetic (K.K. Barrett's production design cleverly anticipates what the interiors of the not-so-distant future might look like) and in terms of societal conventions. Like most other citizens in his vaguely futuristic metropolis, he seems to interact more with his computer – which can fit conveniently in his ear as a bluetooth-esque earpiece – than with other people. If this seems at all familiar to you, that's no accident.

When a software developer releases an new artificially intelligent operating system (“OS” as the film smartly abbreviates) that can intuitively learn how best to interact with its user, Theodore decides to go for the upgrade. We meet Samantha (voiced with extraordinary nuance by Scarlett Johansson), an operating system whose capacity to learn eventually makes her more emotionally complex than her programming. What follows is a story about exploring the baffling mysteries of a love that transcends physical being, and a dreamlike meditation on how human interaction is evolving with our technology.
One of the greatest virtues of Spike Jonze's visionary screenplay is how it always finds new and unexpected directions to take. In the care of a less imaginative author, Theodore would predictably become the subject of social ridicule for developing such intimacy with an abstract collection of code. But Jonze is far too ambitious to take the easy way out. He makes human-OS relationships a new norm in this future. Theodore isn't some exceptional freak cutting against the grain, but a relatable everyman who's far from the only one finding togetherness with his computer; as point of reference we have Theodore's friend Amy, played with lovely authenticity by Amy Adams, who is also buddying up with her OS.

Such is not the only sublimely gentle twist that Jonze grows out of his story, but to discuss them here would be to spoil their compelling reveals. Suffice it to say, that Jonze is able to integrate such a wide variety of relationship themes – ranging from personal growth to sexual surrogacy to polygamy – so naturalistically into his farfetched narrative fabric, without reaching into farce, is quite a directorial feat. He handles the craft of his film with the same delicacy and attention to detail. Especially noteworthy is the hypnotic rhythms of Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbrunnen's editing, and the mesmerizing sonic tones by French Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire.

**** out of ****


  1. Excellent review, but operating systems have been called OSs for quite some time.

    1. Ha! Just goes to show how behind the times I really am.