It is rare that I leave a theater completely mesmerized by what I’ve just seen on the screen. It is rare that a movie is so perplexing to me that I’m left pondering over it for days after I’ve seen it. Her is one of those movies for me. It’s not just a movie made for the sole purpose of entertainment. Instead, it reminds us exactly how movies are a form of art. It is an experience that I found myself completely lost in; a film that brought new ideas to me that I have never thought of before. Her is a movie that perfectly resembles the power that the art of cinema has. Beautifully shot, fantastically acted, and most prominently, a brilliant and thought-provoking screenplay, Her might just be my favorite film of the year.
The always amazing Joaquin Phoenix plays a writer by the name of Theodore Thwombly, a recently divorced man who is left wallowing in mourning of his broken relationship. Much to his surprise, Theo finds comfort in his new found friendship with the new operating system that he has just purchased. This operating system is the most advanced piece of technology to date and it’s possession of artificial intelligence means that it learns more and more about the user based off of information it is given. This OS also has a name…Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theo soon finds himself having conversations with Samantha in which she displays a sort of wisdom that is intriguing to Theo. Their relationship blossoms into something more romantic and Theo becomes connected to Samantha in a way that he never thought possible. However, their relationship brings up many questions about not just the authenticity of the relationship itself but also what the act of loving someone really means.
I am just going to clarify right now that I probably won’t even be able to put accurately into words what this movie got out of me emotionally. As corny as that sounds, I truly believe this is a film that becomes an experience and isn’t just “watched” by the viewer. The director and writer, Spike Jonze, brings up many questions regarding sex, love, relationships, and human emotions in general that (hopefully) have your mind reeling. Jonze just recently won the Golden Globe for best screenplay and I can confidently say that it was well-deserved. I can only hope that the Academy will also recognize his amazing work. Jonze reminds us that is isn’t just an A-list cast, fancy special effects, great camerawork, etc. that make up good movies but also having a solid and truly good story that captures the “human experience” in such a way that you can’t help but connect to it.
Phoenix is brilliant as ever. The man has had many amazing performances but I have never before seen him as vulnerable and full of such a huge range of emotions. He truly brings Theodore to life. Theodore is a man that I think everyone can identify with, or at least identify to his situation. He flawlessly displays at times pure joy and at other times pure sadness. Every word that slips from his mouth feels raw and authentic. Opposite of Phoenix is Johannson, and for someone that we don’t see at all in the movie, she does a damn good job. She is both safe and comforting but at the same time she is sexy and intriguing. Of course Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, and Olivia Wilde just add to this very talented and compelling cast. Mara’s appearances are short but in them she exhibits both the warmth of a new marriage during flashbacks of Theo’s that we witness, and also the coldness of a marriage that has just ended. We don’t despise her or resent her, though. We understand that she has suffered probably just as much as Theo and we acknowledge that both of them played a part in the ultimate failure of their relationship. It feels like such an accurate look at relationships that we can’t help but connect to it. Amy Adams plays the slightly weird long term friend/neighbor who provides companionship and at times wisdom to Theo. One of her lines is one of my favorites of the whole movie in which she states “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” It’s such a simple statement but one that contains some key wisdom and is something that we are vulnerable to forget. Often times we do deny ourselves the very simply concept of having joy. Instead, we find a reason to deny ourselves joy out of fear of disappointing others and because we feel we do not deserve it.
Technically, this is considered a “sci-fi” film, and I suppose that is true. It has many science fiction elements to it, but I think these elements are used by Jonze to reflect the society that we live in today. But I also believe that he is making much more than a statement about the relationship between man and technology. I think it goes way beyond just that. The society shown to us in Her is bright and comforting. The great use of pastel colors and light tones in the set design work to make us feel that. It seems like this is a very soothing world, in which nothing is outreach for anybody, especially with the use of these new operating systems. However, loneliness and other human emotions still exist despite this great new technological world that has developed. Really this film seems to be about relationships and the human emotions that will always be present. Much like another film (which currently holds the title of my personal favorite movie) by the name of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Her uses science fiction elements to deliver a very humanistic message regarding love and relationships. In fact, these two movies are very similar in their messages and on their general outlook of love, which makes sense since Jonze and Charlie Kaufman have collaborated together in the past. All in all, the future that is presented in Her is very shiny and fun to look at it, but it also draws some very distinct similarities to the culture and society that we live in today.
Her was a very welcome surprise to me. I definitely did not expect the very meticulously crafted love story that ended up blowing me away. Phoenix, Johansson, Adams, and Mara were all simply astounding. This was my favorite performance by Phoenix (possibly of all time). The sets, clothing, and whole look of the movie is really just fabulous. But the huge highlight of this film is Spike Jonze. This is my favorite film of his yet and he perfectly shows off his writing and directing chops to remind us that he is indeed a superior filmmaker. Her is way more than just a love story between a man and a computer. It is an exploration of human emotions. It can also be viewed as an explanation of the disconnect that happens at the hands of our reliance on technology. It raises the difficult questions on exactly why we feel the things that we do, and ultimately, what it means to be human.