Film Reviews

Her Spike Jonze

Rating - 8/10

Spike Jonze's latest psychological sci-fi comedy is of a man obsessed with images but unable to reconcile his own haunting relationship issues and connect the splintering physical and digital worlds in a near-future version of Los Angeles. Beyond the intimacy composed by Joaquin Phoenix for his lonesome character, Theodore Twombly (a pitiable name that instantly pulls at audience sympathies), Her is a commentary on twenty-first century communication. Those who populate this familiar yet fashionably alien metropolis are reliant upon technology to enhance their work and personal lives, and yet they all seem distant, oblivious to one another's physicality, which is illustrated in the camera's occasional drift from the individual to the larger societal picture where every commuting urbanite is plugged-in but tuned-out. While the film wears its delicate and farcical premise on its sleeve, about a man falling for the artificially intelligent female operating system that names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the tone is brilliantly balanced between comedy and tragedy. Her is not purely a comment on the necessity of human relationships; it is an examination of our interaction with technology in all senses. Its success lay in the mesmerizing portrayal of the human condition while also navigating the adoption and adaptation of artificial intelligence; after all, AI was created by humanity to accurately reflect its own development.

In all its multifariousness, Her takes initial delight in misdirection by opening with a scene at extreme close-up; Theo confesses his love for another person into the camera. As the shot pulls back, it's revealed he is just one employee in an ironic company,, who composes digital letters for others out there in the world involved in 'real' relationships; he is merely acting as the intermediary, perceiving the possibilities of love without actually having the means to realize romantic aspirations himself. This changes when he sees an advertisement for Element Software's new personality-based operating system, which he promptly buys and installs on an imitation iMac. A sultry, friendly female voice welcomes him and immediately organizes his e-mails through her 'personal' opinion. "You just know me so well," he confesses after talking to Samantha for mere minutes. Her voice becomes an ever-present comfort beyond the wired realm, acting as psychologist to his every concern. The relationship becomes reciprocal, as she develops human-like needs and perceptions, feeding Theo exactly what is lacking in his life without a physical partner.  As their relationship strengthens, he begins to escort her publicly; with her visibility and perception linked through a wallet-sized camera-tablet in his shirt pocket, he communicates back through a white cone-shaped ear-piece as if he's on a perpetual phone call. The film acknowledges these sorts of absurdist, potentially derisive turns with a dose of humorous conversation and worldly acceptance that is required in lives dictated through technology. (Accordingly, director Michelangelo Antonioni's conviction was that life should be taken ironically; otherwise it becomes a tragedy). The film nurtures this idea well to create a work that is not only morally challenging and thought-provokingly modern but entertaining.

Maybe it wasn't Jonze's intention to comically evoke the tagline of the anime cyberpunk film Ghost in the Shell ("It Found a Voice... Now It Needs a Body"), but as Her evolves like the titular operating system, it additionally considers the inevitability of Samantha's need for fulfillment. As their relationship becomes more intimate, she proposes a way to channel these burgeoning impulses into the physical body of a volunteer surrogate. Regrettably avoiding a chance to employ Scarlett Johansson as that figure, the film nevertheless confronts the inherent awkwardness of the split between mental and physical attraction as well as Theo's warped sense of love. Samantha's increasingly human similitude recalls Theo's prior marriage with the beautiful Catherine (Rooney Mara), who is subjectively idealized in glowing soundless flashbacks, when he was unable to fully consider the life and soul of another. In an early scene on the subway, Theo furtively checks provocative pregnancy photos of a celebrity; during a lonely night in bed, he connects to a phone sex chat and then utilizes that image for purposes of arousal (before it all goes horribly wrong). Yet Her comfortably conveys the other vantage point through the absence of the image, as Theo's talks with Samantha feel sincerely liberated. In fact, he literally tells her, "I feel like I can say anything to you." Without a body, Samantha can assume and represent variable ideals in the absence of any envisioned consequence, which is ironic considering his fixations. Unfortunately, through the act of 'dating' an operating system, Theo becomes so detached from the notion of a traditional relationship that he builds this strange new trajectory in his mind of limitless possibilities that he is unable to resolve or specify. He discounts the emotional linkage between intimacy and a singular physical presence. One of the film's enduring messages concerns the idea of equality - that despite our technological evolution, people and all conscious beings need to relate to one another without an intermediary or proxy for the most soul-stirring and healthy experiences.