Film Review- ‘Her’ (*****)

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Just a normal everyday stroll along the beach with your lover/iPod.
Just your normal everyday stroll along the beach with your best friend/lover/MP3 player.

“Her”   ***** (out of 5)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, and Scarlett Johansson (voice)

Written and Directed by: Spike Jonze


It comes as no surprise that the director of “Adaptation” and “Where The Wild Things Are” would create something wholly unique.  Remember, this is also the guy who made a movie about people entering John Malkovich’s mind through a trap door.  “Her” does indeed stand apart from the crowd- but proudly, in its’ own perfect little corner of the gym, observing other films and their bombastic, silly, cynical existences and kindly waiting for someone to ask it to dance.  I’m extremely pleased that I finally got to tango with this one- a funny, smart, topical, and supremely brave film that deserves to be called one of the best of 2013.  It poses so many interesting questions, and then leaves so many to interpretation, satisfying on both accounts.

Like other indie-themed films with relatively small budgets, “Her” has not been broadly marketed, and was only recently put in wide release.  You may not even know what it’s about.  To put it simply, “Her” is set in the near future, and artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where consumers can purchase an operating system that interacts with them just like a human.  Of course, this OS can be on the desktop, or it can come with you as a handheld device. The point is that the public can purchase this OS and adapt it to their lives.  It can collate emails, give you instant writing tips, or even talk you through a break up!

Now please consider- this doesn’t seem like a far-fetched idea, right?  After all, some of us have been talking (albeit awkwardly) to Siri for a couple of years now.  The next logical step, now or a little further down the technology road, is a broad-based operating system that you can customize to sound like a male or female, one that wants to talk to you, is programmed to mimic human emotions, and is designed to make life better.  I think it only stands to reason that a person would probably become emotionally involved with an A.I. unit.  That is what “Her” wants the audience to think about- the implications of having artificial intelligence as part of our lives, what the possibilities for relationships with these theoretical things are, and how that may change us.  Let’s not kid ourselves, as this technology is coming to us.  It’s only a matter of time in my eyes, and I’m sure that someone has a rudimentary version of this now.  Perhaps before his death Steve Jobs was working on something like this- an “iPal”, if you will.

A lesser film might take this idea and simply focus on the sinister underbelly of this plot, and perhaps bathe in the shock value of such a thing.  Jonze has made a film that shows ourselves, and what our own relationships mean to us through the eyes of one man’s (Joaquin Phoenix, in a role only he could play) interaction with his OS (voiced brilliantly by Johansson).  Theodore Twombley is a lonely man, about to become an official divorcee, and unsure of how to move on.  He’s not creepy, but fits the stereotype of what a creepy guy might be.  The OS is just right for him- something to talk to, to share experiences with, sans the constructs of society.

We see the entire range of emotions that a relationship with someone (or something) can bring about, and it’s not just sexual in nature.  It’s the innocent beginnings of a relationship, the warm feelings that kind words can bring, the exhilarating joy of giving and receiving emotional love, the euphoria of sex.  It’s also the frustration that comes from arguing, the vulnerability of dropping your guard to someone, and the complete agony of losing a relationship.  Theo goes through the ringer in this film, but so does Samantha (the name the OS gives itself), who becomes more aware of the emotions ‘she’ is having, since ‘she’ is also on an emotional journey.  This is definitely a dual-sided love affair.

“Her” shows the reality of companionship, not just saccharine, Hollywood relationship fluff, and oddly enough, it’s Theo and Samantha that show the relationship with the most respect in the film.  There exists a humanity between the two that is clearly lacking in the film’s human relationships.  The A.I. won’t harbor grudges, judge, or define what love means to the person feeling it.  However, one human female (Wilde) knows just how to hurt Theo, calling him creepy.  Another (Mara) makes light of Theo’s newfound happiness by accusing him of being lazy- “having a wife without the challenges of having a wife”.  Humans really know how to hurt each other, and while the A.I. has the capability for cruelty, it doesn’t have the ‘pretense’ or capability for judgment.

It’s exciting to think about films like this, and how they challenge us to consider new ideas.  For example, I found myself envisioning multiple scenarios for the governance of such theoretical OS units.  How could they be kept ‘in line’?  For that matter, would they be allowed to quarrel with an owner?  Would they have any freedoms?  Would they just be bound by programming?  How does an operating system interpret pleasure, and thus how would a partner provide it, both physically and emotionally?

What a fascinating subject by itself- but “Her” isn’t just an A.I. story.  Like the relationship between Theo and Samantha, the film transcends traditional thought patterns on such subjects.  We can’t say the film’s subject is ‘creepy’, or ‘weird’ or not ‘real’- not unless we first examine our own thoughts about what love, companionship, and our emotional needs really is, right?

With such interesting subject matter that’s handled with the utmost respect, grace, and honesty, “Her” is one of the more rewarding film experiences I’ve had in recent memory.  I admit to loving what Spike Jonze does, or tries to do, but this film in particular is his crowning achievement thus far, and stands on its’ on merits.  Sometimes it takes an inhuman event to truly understand a human behavior or emotion.  Many people point to acts of evil when they want to show how wonderfully capable the human race is.  “Her”, as a work of fiction, is a clear example of using a different point of view to help us better define what the human experience is, and can be.  For that (and for just being all-around enjoyable), it’s one of the best of 2013.


One thought on “Film Review- ‘Her’ (*****)

    […] fed these messages through the skilled lenses of Steven Spielberg (A.I.) and Spike Jonze (Her), or through the enchanting voice of Scarlett Johansson (Her).  Ex Machina is one of those films, […]

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