I walked into Her with extreme trepidation. The trailer gave the film a kitschy, one note feeling. Considering my ill-fated attempt to find any importance, or interest for that matter, 20 minutes into Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl a few years ago, I was wary of sitting through another bland story focusing on a man’s romantic relationship with an object. My uncertainty only transgressed into irritation, followed by deep pessimism of my approval as the hype machine surrounding Her blared incessantly with whistles, sirens, and confetti. Everywhere I looked Her’s supposed greatness was being shoved into my face. Publications and bloggers arrogantly listed it among the best films of the year (2013 mind you), while others have been singing its praises for months now. My daily news was even bombarded with pop up ads reminding me of its release. In my disdain of being told what to like, I was ready to hate Her; my eyes low, my brow furrowed, and a scowl on my face I was ready to scream “bah humbug” at the opening scene.
Tis the season for criticism.
But Spike Jonze’s tale of love and loss is so mesmerizing and brilliant in its depiction that it doesn’t just live up to the hype, it transcends it. Her is a phenomenal story that at its simplest core explores the ends and odds of falling in love, the joy of simply being with a significant other, the thrill of exploring each other’s mind and learning from one another and one’s self while dealing with the hurdles that appear along the way. Yet, within its simple story lies complex philosophical elements that explore what makes a sentient being, what constitutes life and consciousness and how easily muddled our preconceived notions are in the context of the technological revolution. Her gets all inside of your head on a metaphysical level to make you think beyond the standard definitions of life and love.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a professional letter writer, is fresh on the heels of a divorce attempting to reignite a spark of joy into his gloomy situation. In an attempt to clear the clutter of his professional, and thus personal, life he purchases an advanced OS with artificial intelligence meant to act as a personal assistant of sorts. The system names itself Samantha and the two slowly embark on a symbiotic relationship that provides Theodore the thrill and wonder in the life he lost with the divorce and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) with an understanding of life itself. Yet, as their relationship progresses, so does Samantha’s mental capacities which presents unforeseen struggles between two.
Theodore: “I feel like there’s distance between us…”
Director Spike Jonze takes the helm with first time writing credits in Her, and the nature of his vision shines through with perfect precision. Reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Her is laden with bright candy-like colors and imagery that contrasts its serious, at times heartbreaking, tone with elegance. Jonze’s script plays out as if it were a product of Charlie Kaufman due to its complex, almost science fictional realm of storytelling. Jonze mirrors his future from our current, familiar technological standing with a few advances that may shock and impress. We are transported to a distant future where L.A., the established setting of the film, is clean, less crowded and seemingly peaceful as humanity has nearly integrated flawlessly with technology. The likes of Siri and Google Glass are combined to create widely used earpieces and a pocket sized computer that allows its users to make phone calls, listen to emails, send messages, plan a day and, play songs based on moods, all by voice command.
Jonze’s script is an uplifting, almost utopian view of a society in balanced marriage to technology. Despite nearly every city dweller having this type of time consuming device in their grasp at all times, Jonze presents them as still sociable beings who spend beautiful days outside at the beach or in the woods. Urbanites never appear to be in a state of hurry to get anywhere and most of the extras walk around aware of the sights around them, even being studious enough to rush to Theodore’s aid after he trips in public. Furthermore, Theodore lacks a shallow shell. He’s far from being a recluse lacking social skills. Although wallowing from a recent divorce, Theodore has friends, goes on dates, and understands, even admires, the sentiment of human emotion. Jonze’s deeply intimate script gives Theodore a lovable everyman quality, yet it’s Joaquin Phoenix’s emotional, immersive performance that makes Theodore’s feelings and subtleties so relatable and realistic.
“It’s great being born into a society with the wealth and privilege to fall in love with a computer. Amirite?!”
Visually Jonze doesn’t disappoint, he spreads his creative wings higher and wider than ever. Using a pallet of extraordinary colors, Jonze creates stunning picturesque imagery that showcases staggering brightness in primary colors and the subtle softness of pastels. Nearly every shade of red is plastered or filtered throughout the film giving a feeling of warmth and comfort during certain scenes. The particulars in Her’s set design mirror 1960s interior design complete with sleek, round-edged objects with contrasting colors that bounce off one another. Through the everpresent use of close-ups, Jonze has the advantage of placing viewers squarely in the middle of intimate moments between characters that at times made me feel as though I were intruding on private moments in Theodore’s life. Jonze’s sharp attention to detail in close ups involuntarily gives way to gorgeous background images that are often blurred in light bokeh. The blurred out Asian-oriented cityscape creates distant futurism, yet familiarity, putting the focus more on the coagulation of the city as opposed to a specific location.
Jonze perfects nearly every aspect of each scene of Her, making the entire watching experience a pleasing art house film with mainstream elements. Her’s score, composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, is tenderly haunting and may be reason enough to feel a surge of emotion. Overall, Her is a triumphant showcase of Jonze’s mastering of the filmmaking process from lighting to its costume design. Amy Adams turns out a fabulous supporting performance as a longtime friend of Theodore and Johansson does great voice work bringing Samantha’s curiosity and tangible nature full circle. Her is a funny, inspiring, yet melancholy look at the chaos and elation of love that is visually stunning and mentally stimulating. If you have a heart, you’ll feel something when watching it.
Take a Drink: every time Theodore “gets some action”
Take a Drink: for every person Theodore meets through the internet
Take a Drink: every time Samantha is confused by her feelings
Take a Drink: for every person who doesn’t have a pocket sized computer