How entertaining? ★★★★★
Thought provoking? ★★★★☆
10 February 2014
This article is a review of HER.
“Play different melancholy song,” Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix)
Falling in love with your computer operating system is not so far-fetched, right? No? Ahem. Even if you’re not a technophile, by the end of the fabulous HER one is pretty confident you’ll empathise. Delivering a work of fiction that feels truthful about connecting romantically is too rare. Wish fulfilment is the common modus operandi. Portraying the ideal is easier than grappling with the real. What a year 2013 was for the cinema of heartache! See BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR or GLORIA or THE GREAT BEAUTY.
Spike Jonze is a polymath. Not has he not put a foot wrong as director, in any medium (features, shorts, music videos, adverts), he is a talented writer (adapting WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) and actor (THREE KINGS). Jonze might just be the most imaginative filmmaker working today. Directing his original screenplay, concerning a man’s relationship with the world’s first intuitive artificially intelligent operating system, might have been a topical joke stretched to tedium; instead HER is a meditation on relationships and evolution. Not unambitious then.
A close up on Phoenix’s expressive face kicks us off. Talking sensitively of a fifty year marriage, he doesn’t even look that old. Has the near future advanced healthcare so fast? No, he is dictating a message for a customer. Theodore Twombly (the only person with a surname, whose moniker also sounds like someone out of HARRY POTTER) is a talented writer, once at the L.A. Times, now a gifted scribe of tender sentiments for successful company “BeautifulHandWrittenLetters.com”. In this immediate next step of humankind there appears to be no poverty or disease, leaving the denizens of a beautifully slick Los Angeles to dwell on ardour and creativity. Best pal Amy (Amy Adams) is a wannabe experimental documentarian for instance. We are in the inevitable world of citizens continually connected to the web via earbuds linking to handheld computers/phones the size of a compact mirror. It’s not MINORITY REPORT advanced, just that the likes of Siri and Google Now are fully integrated into our digital lives.
Theodore is grieving; a gentle man wounded from the disintegration of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), who we continually meet in knowingly rose-tinted flashbacks. Separated for a year, his lawyer hounds him to sign divorce papers. Then Element Software introduces “OS1”, the operating system that learns and responds. After a few awkward personality trait questions, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) comes into being. Time is not wasted meeting her, just 10 minutes. After, the film patiently explores friendship, flirtation, passion.
It is not the first time Johansson has been created; see also Michael Bay’s execrable THE ISLAND. Here though her presence is incorporeal, and the actress’s performance is mesmerising – using just her voice. Of course Phoenix is on fire, as is his habit; that ability of his to convey a volcano of pent up emotion is present and correct. Pushed towards her due to disappointments, the chemistry between Samantha and Theodore is more fully charged than most Hollywood rom-coms. Their burgeoning relationship is used to explore commitment and isolation, and bigger questions related to science and philosophy. This is not the artificial intelligence of novels such as ‘The Fear Index’ or ‘Robopocalypse’, where there is amorality at best or malevolence at worst. It is akin to the dæmons in ‘His Dark Materials’.
HER’s soul and brains are wrapped in a film of wonder. Jonze has teamed up with maestros to provide stunning visuals, from décor and lighting to clothing. At times ravishing, at others sexy, always vibrant. Hats off to:
- Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema – the Oscar should surely be his if not for GRAVITY.
- Production designer K.K. Barett, art director Austin Gorg and set decorator Gene Storm.
- Costume design by Casey Storm.
- Music by Arcade Fire.
Humorous and ruminative, HER might just have created a new subgenre: The philosophical heartbreaker.