Her (2013)

A Spike Jonze Love Story

Let’s face it, we live in a technological era and we are all victim to it, whether on our smart phone, tablet or laptop, browsing the web or a social networking site, technology is consuming our daily lives; even children as early as 5 years of age are demanding tablets from their parents to either play the latest games or to become part of the next on-line craze. Spike Jonze’s new film Her looks at a future where technology has advanced to the next level and operating systems are communicating with their users; Jonze uses this subtext to explore people’s growing isolation with one another while tackling the possible implications of advanced technology within our society which is consuming lives at a rapid pace.

Spike Jonze has always been a distinctive filmmaker with his own diverse style of directing; he regularly teams up with Charlie Kaufman with their masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), being their greatest collaboration thus far. Her is Jonze’s first fully conceived ‘original’ film, which he both wrote and directed and is based on his unique imaginative idea. The tagline states A Spike Jonze Love Story, and it’s no surprise to discover that with Her, Jonze has constructed a very insightful romance that’s clearly like no other; it’s thought provoking, inventive and wonderfully sweet, yet totally filled in his trademark sophistication.

Joaquin Phoenix, clearly content working with Jonze.
Joaquin Phoenix, clearly content working with Jonze.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man in the final stages of divorcing his long time love, Catherine (Rooney Mara). The introverted Twombly works as a writer of computer generated handwritten letters for clients by day and lives an isolated life alone in his high-rise building. Theodore only communicates with his longtime friend, the married Amy, (Amy Adams), who also resides in his building. Twombly one day decides to purchase the new Operating System 1 (OS1), which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. However, Theodore quickly finds himself drawn to Samantha, the voice behind his OS1 (Scarlett Johansson) and since Samantha is designed to cater to Twombly’s every need, she evolves and begins to establish a strong connection with him also. As the pair spends more time together, they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Now having fallen for his OS, Theodore begins to examine his unconventional relationship, juggling feelings of both happiness and uncertainty and after an encounter with his ex-wife Catherine, uncovers some harsh truths about himself which force him to question his future with Samantha as he fully comes to terms with the fact that she will never have a human body.

Whilst some might find the basic premise of falling in love with an operating system a little difficult to swallow, it’s Joaquin Phoenix, The Master (2012), who truly brings this far-fetched concept to life with his incredible performance as Theodore Twombly. Phoenix conveys a multitude of emotions in his role and is able to flesh Theodore out as he exposes the character’s many complexities with his beautiful, yet subtle portrayal; it’s Phoenix who in fact carries the weight of the picture on his shoulders. Although Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation (2003), is never seen, only heard, she does an incredible job as Samantha, the voice of the OS. Johansson basically holds our hand throughout the picture and guides us as she is studying the behaviors of the human mind while learning about the world glancing through the eyes of Theodore, just as we, the audience, are discovering it. It’s through this initial child-like and later intellectually developed performance that Johansson proves she’s more than just a pretty face and doesn’t require to be seen to truly impress.

We've all been here, darn loading bar!
We’ve all been here, darn loading bar!

Amy Adams, The Fighter (2010), is wonderful as always, with her rather authentic portrayal as the awkward friend and neighbor who sympathizes with Theodore. On the other hand, Rooney Mara, The Social Network (2010), is equally as splendid as Twombly’s wife Catherine, as with limited screen time, Mara is able to leave a lasting impression with viewers proving that she needs to be given more leading roles in the future. Seeing Olivia Wilde, Rush (2013), pop up as a blind date was the sprinkle on top of this already fantastic cast; on a side note, director Spike Jonze voices an alien child in a hilarious video game sequence in the picture, which should generate a few enjoyable laughs.

On the whole, Her is a technical marvel; production designer K.K. Barrett, Where the Wild Things Are (2009), uses locations in Los Angeles and Shanghai to create a plausible, yet almost fantastical future city, while Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, The Fighter (2010), utilizes an array of pastel colors to create an almost dream-like vintage look to the entire picture. Spike Jonze’s fluorescent vision of the working future is reason enough to sit through Her, as he offers an array of neat ideas and fascinating notions throughout the show. Owen Pallett, Arcade Fire’s Will Butler and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ front lady Karen O elevate proceedings with their score and music on Her as their soundtrack brings a tender, sincere truth to the whole affair. Pallett and Butler’s work on the film has been nominated for Best Original Score, while Karen O’s The Moon Song is up for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars, a true testament to the music’s awe.

While most things work for Her, the film won’t appeal to a wide range of people as some might find the concept a bit too far-fetched or a little too odd to grasp. Others, no doubt, won’t know how to react to the film’s intimate moments involving phone/ cyber sex or might totally miss what this film was trying to portray. In addition, Jonze wraps things up a little to neatly and conveniently in the final act, which is a shame as a great deal more could have been done given his track record.

Joaquin Phoenix, a little late for movember!
Joaquin Phoenix, a little late for movember!

Let’s not get too picky as Her is a complex, well-crafted love story, one with a deeper meaning than what lies on its surface. The picture boldly explores society’s descent into self imposed isolation, as more and more people are seeking either artificial or easy emotional connections over the genuine thing; heartbreaking, heartfelt and thought provoking cinema at its best.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Her is released through Sony Pictures Australia