Spike Jonze’s Her disrupts the generic flow of romantic comedies that are recycled through our cinemas every year. It takes a refreshing look at the genre like other standouts such as Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Richard Linklater’s recent Before Midnight. Her lies in the same breath as the former, with it’s portrayal of postmodern isolation, technological advances and visual style. Parallel to its smooth direction and striking set design is Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, which really shows his range as an actor. What is intriguing about Her is its depiction of us as a society advancing faster and faster into an overwhelming technological future and how we are going to handle it’s moral implications.
Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly (sounds like a fat, waddling character from a British clay animation series), a soon to be divorced man, stuck in a rut. He wanders through the fantastic, futuristic Los Angeles landscape, jacked into his online world oblivious to his physical surroundings. Human contact seems futile in this handsfree society and this is why Theodore decides to download the OS voice operating system to help him organise his life. The system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) appears to have a mind of her own, with feelings and consciousness. They spark a nice kinship, but as Theodore comes out of his shell so does Samantha. As real as she may seem, the fact remains that she is still a computer program, hence her limitations and lack of physicality. He inspires jealousy in her when he dates a neurotic Olivia Wilde, which leads them to open up more to each other about their feelings.
This results in the film’s best scene as a honest conversation transcends to verbal intercourse between the two. Spike Jonze produces an extremely intense sex scene without even showing anything, just words and then a black screen, which forces Theodore, Samantha and the audience to use their imagination. The cut to the following scene of the morning after is terrific as we watch Theodore pacing back and forth awaiting the awkward conversation with his computer.
The second half would play out like your regular romantic comedy scenario if it wasn’t so bleak. Complications arise as Theodore and Samantha continue their relationship, primarily with the elephant in the room…she has no body. Samantha suggests a “sex surrogate” to allow their relationship a physical realm. When the surrogate girl comes over to Theodore’s apartment and begins seducing him, it feels more like a zombie attack than foreplay. This scene is so unsettling it sort of feels like borderline rape and rightfully so Theodore doesn’t go through with it. Theodore is perplexed as to what he actually wants. Nothing in the physical form makes him happy and the relationship with Samantha is too complex. Nothing appears to be real in his life. His job consists of writing affectionate letters for random couples, it appears he only has one real friend (Amy Adams) and he plays video games in his sterile apartment. Is he just a helpless artificial intelligence porn addict?
Although Theodore’s plight is tough, attempting to move on from his marriage and find happiness, his predicament isn’t really all too bad. He has a great job, which from beginning to end every character compliments him on, seems extremely comfortable financially and though his friends are few, they are genuine and supporting. He is, as his hilarious video game character labels him, a pussy. His wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) appears to be a cold bitch, who he should be thankful to get away from, he is hooked up with a hard body like Amelia (Olivia Wilde) and he is living in an incredibly futuristic Los Angeles that would make Rick Deckard bitter.
As it stands, Her is visually stunning, well written and exciting in regards to the possibilities of future technologies. It is a social commentary on the culture of modern human relationships and where it could lead to. We witness it today without having to go as far as artificial intelligence, via social networking and online dating sites. People are communicating less and less in person and more online, rather than a humane gesture we get an emoji, jokes aren’t interpreted properly, our physical appearances are filtered as if we want to masquerade our true identity. Its simulacrum and its progressing at a rapid pace. However, these technological breakthroughs can also bring people closer together if applied properly, it is us who are the problem. There have been a good few movies that have touched on the same themes as Her, but in recent years it is the most believable and accessible film about the distant future to come out of Hollywood. It may not be a great movie, but its an interesting one with an original look to it. I enjoyed Jonze’s visual aesthetic of the future and I applaud the unflinching style in which the sex scenes were shot. Alright, I’m off to fuck my I phone, while my Mac plays with herself.