[Review] - Her

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Lets all just accept that Her is probably the most critically acclaimed movie that features two beginning-to-end phone sex sequences that aren't watered down or censored. In a way, it's for sequences like these, as well as the myriad of dream sequences, awkward dates, and general human weirdness, that Her might be one of the truest depictions of actual everyday human existence put to film. That it features a man dating an artificial intelligence is secondary.

It's taken me a few days to work out exactly what Her is meant to be. My immediate impression was that this is a very well made film, with excellent and honest performances, that is without a central thesis. It was taking us on a journey, that much was clear, but what was the point of the journey was less clear. I've settled now, and maybe others came to this realisation earlier, that the journey was the point of things. This is a movie about growth, about becoming more than you are through the experiences we share, or want to share, with others, and how for good or ill, we are better people when we come out the other side. So, it was ironic that I saw it alone.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which were a little terrified of this movie's more prophetic moments.


I like this kind of futurism. It is measured, satirical while also being incredibly (or depressingly) realistic. We're never given a time frame, but lets assume 30 to 50 years in the future (judging from the built up LA skyline), this is what the world will be like if... well, the things continue the way they are. Mobile devices increasingly become ubiquitous, streamlined and more powerful. Data sharing is second nature, and human interaction takes a slight hit on that. But this isn't dystopia. It isn't a Blade Runner hell-scape, or a Hunger Games dictatorship. This is pastel colours and retro-sixties influenced fashions. This is couture run amok and people increasingly hiding behind their own insecurities. This isn't so different from where you are currently sitting.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is coming out of a long term and identity dependent marriage, and he's not having a good time of it. An overly empathetic individual, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and constantly doubts himself. As is suggested a couple times in the film, Theodore is dependent on having someone else in his life, because he believes that he can only be happy while making others happy, and being made happy by others. His job, for instance, is to express emotions for strangers, to the extent that over years he is as much a part of the relationships as the participants, if not more since he is feeling things things for them. And can I say that a website that people pay to write letters for them is so completely a thing that I can see being successful. This emotional separation seems endemic in this world, where technology has allowed greater, faster, more convenient connections, but has almost completely removed the human element. Thus the satire kicks in, and removes the human element.

A lot of comparisons have been made between Apple's Siri and the film's Sam (Scarlett Johansson), but those comparisons begin and end with it being a female computer voice. Sam and Theodore's relationship has far more in common with a long distance relationship, where the emotional rather than the physical takes precedence. Sam is a fully realised individual, a constant supportive presence which is exactly what Theodore wants. His ex-wife charges that what we wants is a wife without actually having a wife, and that is hard to argue with, no matter how likable Theodore is. His need for a connection, any kind of connection, drives his entire person. Even the movie's closing moments suggest that, for whatever growth he has achieved, he still requires that constant support.

One of the best qualities of the film is that, when it comes to technology, it is almost completely neutral. It doesn't vilify, nor does it glamorise. The technological advances are present, but never demonised. Things are simply scaled up from where they are now. Video games are more immersive, drawn more towards the edges of extremism, like fluid in a centrifuge. The technology is more interactive while less physical. And none of it is jarring in universe. The addition of the AI OS' is simply another advance. When the OS' become more than what was expected, there is no uprising, no social revolt. There is adaptation, and passive acceptance. Theodore's relationship with Samantha is treated no differently than any other, except by his ex-wife, who has an obvious bias. In that way, the film fails to make any significant comment on the use of such technology. This is where I became muttered, because this is what I was expecting. When a film includes future tech, you expect there to be some evaluation on that tech made.

Instead, what the film is is really no different from any other romantic comedy. Except that this one is intelligent, aware and competent. The message, as explored through as much through Theodore as through Sam, is that every experience, be it good or bad, becomes a part of us, and informs who we will become once the experience has passed. Theodore bemoans the fact that, he's known his ex-wife his entire life, that they made each other who they are, and without her influence, he doesn't know who he will become. What he fails to understand is that, discovering who he is without her, based on who he was with her, is just as important. Otherwise, you stagnant and depress. Hence, the inclusion of Amy (Amy Adams, as reserved here as she was expressive in American Hustle), whose marriage suffocated her to the extent that, creatively, it nearly killed her. through Sam, the film explores the importance of growth as an individual as well as growth of a couple. And the inevitable downside when one partner grows faster than the other.

As is common with Spike Jonze, the performances here are stripped down, honest and refreshingly real. While his visuals do occasionally overextend themselves, trying too hard at times to seem to be meaningful, the film is wonderfully shot, and is at it's best when it's focusing on the human element. There are a lot of extreme closeups here, and a lot of straight at the camera shots, with partially obscured faces and odd angles. The feeling this creates is an intimate one, as if you are a partner in this relationship. That you are physically there, but voiceless, to counteract Sam's lack of physicality. It is also a refreshingly funny film, that never bogs itself down too heavily in the melodrama. It feels real that way. The way characters react with awkward chuckles or self deprecating jokes to deflect the onslaught of human emotion is entirely true, and rare to see handled so well. The film is helped in that regard by a supporting cast of comedians, with Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig each putting in a scene.

Her is, in a lot of ways, like the Woody Allen relationship movies of the 70's. It's a human story, and human stories tend to be strange, directionless, and ultimately without a satisfying conclusion. The entity of the human experience is one of moments, and occasionally we share those moments, and Her only seeks to explore why we willing take part and actively seek out in these moments of "socially acceptable insanity," and what we can learn from them. It never takes any position other than, in whatever form they take, it's worth it.

It's worth it.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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