Oscar Nominations: Her Review

Something about Her.

By Adam Sturrock

Her (2013/4)

Director: Spike Jonze

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara

Writer: Spike Jonze

Length: 128mins

It seems as if as technology progresses forwards, further into the vast universe of possibility, relationships ironically seem automated, regressive and no longer natural; card companies write what we want to express to our loved ones, dating sites are booming now as this massive world is compressed into a tennis ball via just a click away.

Her by Spike Jonze is centered around the question of “To what extent can relationships be mechanized?” In this woozy, warm and at times heart-felt story, we meet Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who works at a card company writing personalized letters on a person’s behalf. He has the capacity for love, but his previous marriage has left him socially awkward and humble. Still reminiscing of his previous flame (Mara), Theodore installs an intelligent operating system called Samantha (voiced by the terrific Johannson) as a way to comfort and control his unravelling life. She sifts through his emails, writes music for them and gradually develops into – outside of a physical body- a person with as many complex emotions and feelings that anybody else would have. But can Samantha truly love?

The film ponders throughout if the emotions expressed by Samantha are real or is it just a result of her programming? The morals of falling in love with what is deemed to be an amalgamation of circuitry continues to baffle characters in the film. Indeed this is typified by Mara’s scathing critique of Theodore during their divorce, bluntly proclaiming: “He couldn’t deal with me, tried to put me on Prozac and now he’s in love with his laptop”. Being obsessed with something outside of a physical person leads to social seclusion and those same intense feelings are felt when Twombly is deemed creepy by a blind date and our heartstrings play in tune with his. Theodore’s love for Samantha has expanded past the rationality of a physical being. Samantha devotedly exclaims to Theodore: “The heart’s not like a box that gets filled up. It expands inside the more you love”, but at what point does this love for a computer become obscene? Are they truly in love? Is he doomed to be obsessive with electronic gadgets in the same way as a crazy cat lady is obsessed with her felines? Very few films of this genre dare to answer such questions in the way that Her does or even think about presenting these questions at all. The physical part of every relationship is a lynchpin of what makes or breaks romance, so how can the two cope without physical contact at all?

Both Phoenix and Johansson shine throughout, with a special mention to Scarlett especially, considering she was a last minute cast change and completed the voiceover post-shoot. With the now famous husky voice of hers, it becomes hard to differentiate between woman and robot which typifies her delivery of the role; few times did I actually believe she was not a person but instead thousands of lines of code stored in the cloud. Joaquin continues to, like the mythical creature, reinvent himself for another straight Oscar nomination that leaves behind his previous- almost perverse- roles in films such as the Gladiator and The Master.
In my opinion, Her is one of the few films that dares to be different; it is quirky at times but also can be very grown up. Our (the laptop generation’s) attachment to technology has definitely contributed to how the props were designed and thought of; after the release of Google Glass why wouldn’t we streamline that into earplugs that work like a Siri-esque interface? Spike subtly ridicules the art cliques of today throughout- one hilarious scene involving the slightly off center Amy Adams; sees the wannabe filmmaker debut a clip of her mother snoring for five minutes as part of an ongoing documentary about sleep  and another scene showing a newly created video game scourning gamers for “failing their children” in a housewife simulation. Video games are depicted as vile, but otherwise nonviolent interactive platforms that exceed films; a conversation with an especially foul mouthed game character (voiced by Spike) possibly hints towards the petulant nature of today’s Call of Duty heathens that scourge our online universes. An evolution of the blabbering, slightly awkward way of life on wireless Bluetooth headsets and Siri systems is realized fully as it is suggested that people accept talking to a computer as almost the norm in this near-future romance- people do not gaze onwards at a strange man as he hobbles about laughing and reminiscing with what only he can hear- “Falling in love is a crazy thing to do, it’s a form of socially acceptable insanity” says Amy Adams in a touching scene.

Her is a true return to form by Spike Jonze and which may also lead to being a classic in the Sci-Fi genre for its subtlety and at times humour. Running around the two hour mark, the pacing and general tone of the film is almost  perfect and rarely has a moment that dithers towards the conclusion of the film. It may not be a firm Oscar favorite, but I truly recommend this film as a dark horse for its stellar acting pair.
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