2 10 2014

Writer/director Spike Jonze’s “Her” is an uncommonly thoughtful film, one that is lightyears ahead of what we can really even fathom.  Most works tackling the topics of technology and humanity are set in distant futures, yet they never seem to escape the mire of our present times.

“Her,” on the other hand, dares to imagine a world only tenuously related to our own.  Jonze’s vision is hardly disconnected from contemporary concerns, though.  It just requires us to adjust our frame of reference to imagine issues we may not have even contemplated.  As a result, Jonze is able to urge us to see the world differently – a very worthwhile way to wield the power of cinema.

In his unspecified future Los Angeles, Joaquin Phoenix’s socially isolated Theodore Twombly finds romantic companionship not in another human being, but rather in his OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).  The soothing sultriness of her voice allays our concerns about intelligent computers, so we’re never worried about her turning into HAL from “2001.”  Instead, we can focus on the very unique insights their relationship yields about intimacy and emotional mediation.

All that we think we know is up for reconsideration in “Her,” even the very nature of love.  In the hands of many directors, this kind of existential revelation might leave us feeling depressed or hopeless.  But Jonze, with a respect for artificial intelligence and an optimism for the future that feels quite groundbreaking, deposits us at a higher ground of understanding that almost overrides any emotional response.


That’s not to say that the film is unfeeling, however (although I did not feel a particularly strong connection to Theodore).  “Her” actually provides one of the most touching portrayals of a relationship on screen, so real that it’s easy to forget that one participant is never physically present.  Jonze nimbly balances the distinct challenges of Theodore and Samantha’s situation with timeless problems faced by any couple.  And perhaps most impressively, he never indulges the impulse to view them as exotic or strange.

While the premise of a human falling in love with a more advanced version of Siri may seem novel now, it could conceivably happen one day.  Society might not even bat an eyelid at the thought, for all we know.  Jonze gives us some credit that we might be able to adapt and accept; the stable human core of the film, Amy Adams’ character Amy, actually finds the relationship quite beautiful.

Throughout “Her,” Jonze makes it quite easy to settle into Amy’s point of view.  He and cinematographer Hotye van Hoytema capture the fleeting ephemera of love and passion quite touchingly.  They often let the sun overpower the frame, soaking it with light and letting happiness radiate.  As Amy puts it, “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.”  Though its journey trudges through pain and melancholy, “Her” does ultimately inspires us to follow our bliss – in whatever odd form it might take.  A-3halfstars



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