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‘HER’ (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay
Written and Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara,
Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt

In Her, Spike Jonze executes an incredible (and new) love story based around the evolution of computer technology.

Operating systems are completely fluid extensions of human beings. No buttons, no wires, just vocal communication and touch-screens. People walk around looking as though they are talking to themselves but they are connected online with ear-buds.  Everyone is together but disconnected.

Her is a complex perspective on the inevitable trends of digital communication.

It’s difficult to create a film that exists in the near future. You can’t fall back on standard sci-fi tropes like metallic jump suits, aliens, or luxury trips to the moon.

In Her, the future shows the logical extension of current trends in computer technology.

It is so palpable as to inspire product envy in the viewer.

The newest creation is an artificial intelligent operating system, named simply OS 1. There is no desktop, no keyboard, and no mouse. The OS compiles data from a human user in just a few questions and produces an ideal companion, friendly or romantic, depending on what it believes it’s human counterpart needs.

Joaquin Phoenix is (for the most part) the solo star of this film as Theodore Twombly.

He works at beautifullyhandwrittenloveletters.com where he composes intimate letters for strangers from photographs and tidbits they send. He writes the most personal notes but his clients are complete strangers. Theodore is a complex and heartbreaking character. He is filled with so much emotion and compassion, but it only shines through the words he writes for others.

Joaquin Phoenix balances the dichotomy brilliantly. It’s no surprise that at this point in his career he is able to capture such emotional complexity.

Isolated, sensitive, and funny, we empathize and understand Theodore, which Spike Jonze makes even more powerful with his ethereal camera movements and close angles. Spending so much alone time with Theodore, we become intimately connected to him. Experiencing his happiness, heartbreak, and angst. We grow to love his quirks and nuances. But we get to see how others misunderstand him and find him creepy. He has an incredible capacity to love, but it requires a level of physical detachment. Where real-life interactions are involved he is awkward, anti-social, and distant.

He is still depressed over his divorce. And while it is stated that his wife, Katherine (Rooney Mara), was volatile, we understand her frustration of trying to grow with a disconnected man.
 
I loved the memory flashes of Theodore’s past and present adventures.

They have a dreamlike quality that’s heartbreaking and exciting. Samantha refers to the past as “stories we tell ourselves”. This line makes the ethereal memories even more heartbreaking and intimate, bringing us deeper into the mind of Theodore Twombly.

Other than Rooney Mara’s single present-tense scene, Amy Adams has the second most organic role in the film. Her presence is grounding and insightful. She is Theodore’s best friend, true and loyal. They share each other’s physical and virtual relationships offering advice yet being a solid form to depend on. Stripped down with little make up, quirky and incredibly intelligent, Adams is effortlessly wonderful.

Scarlett Johansson is the voice of Theodore’s OS lover, Samantha. Her voice is sexy and enthralling. Her words resonate with such compassion that it’s easy to forget she is the product of incredible programming. Her wisdom is at once comprised from an infinite source of data but lacks any real world experience.

It’s important to listen to how Samantha speaks to Theodore – her word choice, tone, and timing is complex and deliberate. She receives information from his voice and facial expressions only. Written to analyze and interact simultaneously is an astounding technological feat, that’s not only plausible but also seemingly inevitable given current technological progression. The computer continues learning at insanely fast rates incomprehensible to their human counterparts.

At the start of their relationship, Theodore shows her the world, acting as a mentor as well as lover. As Samantha matures, Theodore becomes increasingly reliant on her. When he loses contact with Samantha even for a few moments, he is thrown into frenzy – not unlike how we feel when texting or chatting with a friend, when suddenly all cell reception is lost. Towards the end, Samantha’s AI is so hopelessly beyond Theodore’s, that she cannot be satisfied with him alone.

In a time when we are hyper-connected through Facebook, Twitter, and countless Internet media, we paradoxically face an epidemic of loneliness.  

Her is an excellent portrayal of the evolution of that disconnected attachment.

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