Written and Directed by Spike Jonze.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Rooney Mara.
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
Spike Jonze is such an interesting Director. One of those guys who started his career dabbling in some eccentric music videos and transitioned nicely into film. He has a voice and an aesthetic that is skirts the line between insanity and genius and he navigates it with remarkable proficiency. He’s made some interesting and imperfect films like Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are. To date, nothing he’s done has come close to capturing the lunacy of his style as Being John Malkovich, an eccentric masterpiece that sums up his eclectic voice well. His new film Her is something different. It’s a more mature, refined film that still dabbles in some lofty ideas and strange behaviors but does so on a much more human level. And it may be his masterpiece.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer struggling with the impending divorce from his wife. He lives in a quasi-futuristic Los Angeles brimming with people who seem appropriately disconnected from one another. Technology has infected their lives. Everyone is on their smartphones, computers, and iPads barely able to muster the attention span to look up from their screens. Theodore is a product of this cultural disconnect, dealing with the death of his marriage with the internet, video games, and pornography.
While pouring himself into a dozen distractions, he decides to try out a new operating system (or O.S. for short) and installs it on his computer. This high tech artificial intelligence is far beyond anything he’s experienced before. It’s personalized and voice activated. It travels with you wherever you go. This personalized interface assigns it own voice and has a distinct personality. Theodore’s O.S. names itself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and the two begin a series of conversations that reveal she is more than just a web surfing application.
Theodore begins to venture back into the outside world, ending his self-imposed exile as begins to share things with Samantha. It seems strange at first. The two begin to form something of a working relationship through a series of conversations. There’s a natural cadence between them. Samantha is new to the world and trying to figure out the intricacies of human relationships. Theodore is looking for someone to talk to and is attracted to how excited by the world she is. There’s a natural level of awkwardness built into the concept, and its something that could have devolved into ludicrousness at light speed. To Jonze’s credit, it never does. The evolution of Samantha and their relationship feels understandable. Enviable, even. These two lost souls find one another and begin a strange, surreal love story.
There are bumps in the road. She’s a computer operating system without a body. He’s still dealing with a lot of old baggage. Jonze finds a lot of ways to explore the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the relationship. When Samantha wants to bring in a sexual surrogate, things get appropriately weird. When Theodore realizes that Samantha is actually not only his O.S., but the operating system of thousands of online users, he gets jealous. There are so many odd corners that Jonze works his characters into. What’s both refreshing and baffling is how much better a job Her does of portraying a relationship than movies with two humans occupying the screen. There’s more humanity in Her than 99% of the romantic comedies plaguing the cineplex.
Much of the credit has to go to Joaquin Phoenix, who has truly become a remarkable on screen presence. So much of the movie hinges on the audience both liking and sympathizing with Theodore. He has to pull double duty on the movie since Samantha is nothing more than a voice, putting added emphasis on his reactions. The camera is on his expressive face the majority of the film. It’s like having to do both parts of the scene. There’s not a lot to cut away to when the majority of the film involves conversations with only one person occupying the screen. I loved Her for a number of reasons. For the interesting and well explored concept. For the clean, crisp portrayal of the not too distant future. For Phoenix’s heartbreaking and engaging performance. This is an exceptionally well done movie. Something that is both high concept and human.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.