Her (2014) Review
Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 2 hr 6 Mins
Plot: Set in a future world, a disenchanted writer Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) embarks on a relationship with his operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)
Spike Jonze’s eclectic career has seen him direct a multitude of short films, a host of documentaries and music videos. When he has turned his hand to feature-length film, there is an innate touch of genius which lights up the silver screen. The seminal ‘Being John Malkovich’ and the underrated ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ are prime examples. Now to his latest offering: Her. The very word conjures up imagery of grace and a certain brand of idealism. The singular word title is telling; it instantly evokes a dream like fascination with who ‘she’ might be whilst questioning the power her spirit may hold over the common soul. It unashamedly places ‘her’ on a golden pedestal. We can only look up with a gleaming sense of adulation and hope to meet her gaze. The title can also relate directly to a memory of her, a painful or wondrous afterthought of a loved one that has lived on in our subconscious.
Spike Jonze’s futurist screenplay translates into a wonderfully tender yet arresting exploration of life’s most complex emotion: love. ‘I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.’ Every frame is considered, whether comic or more profound, this is a gleeful immersion into a world blessed with hope and a lasting appreciation of the human condition. Is our present happiness directly correlated to our past experiences? Theodore (expertly played by Joaquin Phoenix) laments ‘Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.’ Are we programmed in such a way that our mind fixates on moments of loss? Experience can taint our vision of the world but should not define us. Her expertly depicts the aftermath of heartbreak and handles its sci-fi element with a Midas touch.
The dreamy voice of the OS Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) represents a non-judgemental figure in Theodore’s inner circle. She is there to listen, not to judge. To comfort, not pity. Her fresh and bright-eyed outlook on the world serves to re-invigorate Theodore’s vitality for life. Samantha’s outlook on life is one of child-like innocence, a new being embracing the beauty around us that is often overlooked in the rush of daily life. In many ways, Theodore is falling in love with himself by regaining his damaged self esteem. In a brazen sense of irony, Theodore’s life centres around ghost writing love letters for complete strangers. It becomes a formulaic exercise; an almost mechanical outpouring of heartfelt romanticism which ultimately serves to devalue its resonance to the writer (an emotional commodity) Theodore’s occupation provides an inviting window into his warm-hearted yet distant nature. He thrives in sentiment but struggles in the rigors of commitment. A broken relationship with Catherine (Rooney Mara) provides a stark illustration of his predicament whilst his infatuation with Samantha cements this understanding.
The past casts a murky shadow over the present and haunts Theodore. Samantha, the logical figure in proceedings, asserts that ‘The past is just a story we tell ourselves’. Whilst we often allow the past to detrimentally impact our present, Jonze has embellished the idea that every experience in life whether positive or negative can be learnt from. The American director warmly embraces the notion that happiness is a state of mind and is a textured embodiment of our richest life experiences; crucially those blissful moments are amplified when shared with others. Theodore’s friend Amy (the pitch perfect Amy Adams) presents an alternative reality; her awkward and failing relationship entraps her in unhappiness. It is not long before she is drawn towards an operating system, a parallel to Theodore’s longing for companionship.
The social media age has damaged the ability for people to effectively communicate, to relate and most importantly to connect on a spiritual level. The tendency to hide behind words on a screen is becoming increasingly prominent. As technologies thrive and continue to develop, artificial intelligence will surely become more advanced. Whether this form of AI will have such a prominent role to play in our lives is unforeseen but Jonze has certainly toyed with an interesting concept. In an important sequence, Samantha attempts to get a body double to play her role in reality to form a physical connection with Theodore. As it dramatically backfires, the writer expertly eludes to the point that genuine human intimacy is irreplaceable and some things will never change.
Whist the initial premise seems farcical, Her transpires as a work of immense comic value and poignancy. To deem this a romantic comedy would be doing Spike Jonze a huge disservice, Her has crafted its own unique mark in an age where originality is at a premium. The brilliance of the mercurial Joaquin Phoenix is undeniable and the Academy has quite rightly honoured the film with the best original screenplay award. Her is a character study of poetic brilliance and one of the year’s stand-out films.