Wallowing in a state of directionless loss, an inability feel to connected with people despite the web of technology; writer/director Spike Jonze's Her asks the profound and prescient philosophical questions about life and love in our ever integrated technological state. It's a premise that when you hear about it, but especially when you see it, you're flabbergasted that someone hasn't already approached it. Against the backdrop of a not too distant egalitarian future, writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is silently suffering. He's been separated from his great love (Roony Mara) for nearly a year and has become numb to the overwhelming chasm of what life means. With the release of 'OS 1' — the first sentient operating system - Twombly and the AI personality Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) form a relationship.
Jonze is a visceral and visually inventive filmmaker. He bathes the future Californian metropolis, littered with sky-rise apartments and a labyrinthine subway in unblemished, picturesque sunshine. His vision of this peaceful and technologically sophisticated future initially makes you swell with hope and joy. That is until the disconnectedness that informs Twombly's (Phoenix) melancholic state, and for that matter the calm of people locked into their own devices, becomes apparent. Phoenix is perfectly attuned to this emotionally wrung out creative Twombly. It's only in controlled spaces, with his small circle of familiars that Twombly is comfortable. He authors hand written (computer generated versions of hand-writing that is) for his customers. He tunes into their request and pedigree details and conjures their authorial voice to correspond. It's in these private moments of authorship that you get a different and playful perspective of Twombly and get a chance to see him wriggling away from the sweet complimentary small talk from Chris Pratt's coworker Paul. In the future we can't be bothered committing a pen to paper, nor even our authentic thoughts; however it's in the forged art of those intimate words that you begin to wonder, does it matter?
Phoenix draws you in to the haunting echoes of regret reverberating in his head. Amy (Amy Adams), a game designer, documentaur and friend of Theodore's, endures a break-up they both find solace in the fact that they're both comfortable looking to OS' their respective rebounds. It’s refreshing to see Adams and Phoenix compliment and support one and other with such warmth; it balms the sting of their confrontations in The Master. Adams' understated insecurity, her frustration with her soon to be ex-partner Charles (Matt Letscher) and the subtle yearnings that cascade across her hypnotic blue eyes make for Adams' most confidently understated performance to date.
The world is at peace but there's an assumed isolation. Just as technology connects us, it drives us to insularity. Theodore can't seem to be faced with the brunt force of his emotions. Rooney Mara as Theodore's ex chases him into retreat. Mara has an ability to be a whimsical pixy or a glacial elitist and although she's predominantly recalled in fleeting flashbacks, their time together makes an impression. You can see that she's been driven away from Theodore's inclination to withdraw and her prodding antagonism is to get him to react and to fight for them. Jonze attacks time and memory with the dexterity of a concert pianist, calling for the necessary slivers of life in the right scale and tone for every echoing moment.
Her is very much a love story. Jonze challenges you by integrating somewhat classical romance iconography with what at face value is a loner. Theodore and Samantha (a man and a futuristic iPhone) share beautifully photographed moments of romantic intimacy - a day at the beach, a winter escape, a playful evening at a carnival - Theodore’s present and Samantha is exclusively inside his head. There's a moment where Theodore and Samantha are experimenting with how to get intimate. They're talking, weaving their interaction from their frenzied, conjoined imagination and Jonze fades to black. You're forced into the sensual, private experience that's both erotic and perverse to collectively share with a cinema full of people. It's wonderful to submerge into Samantha's (Johansson) coarse but dulcet tones. There's a direction, support and lack of judgement that it's fulfilling the every possible way. There's a freedom to the concept of someone objectively immersing themselves into everything you'd, perhaps, normally keep even those closest to you. Handicapped by not showing her striking aesthetic beauty, Johansson must paint the impression of perfection; it’s nothing short of one of the most affective and immersive vocal performance that I can remember. Jonze uses Samantha's exponentially expanding consciousness, with access to the worlds combined repository of knowledge as the catalyst to pose scenarios of what we'd have to contend with.
Jonze’s Her is a work of sweeping, poetic genius.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Spike Jonze Written by: Spike Jonze Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig, Matt Letscher, Spike Jonze, Olivia Wilde, Brian Cox
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.