During the screening of Her I attended someone's phone let out a bleep. That person had the power to turn off their mobile device but cinemagoer couldn't stand to be disconnected for two hours. Writer and director, Spike Jonze, has managed to tap into our desire for companionship and how technology satisfies the need. Leaving your phone on at the movies is just the beginning of a growing obsession that's analysed beautifully in Her.
Los Angeles in the not too distant future is a peaceful city where writer, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), develops a relationship with an operating system imbued with artificial intelligence (A.I) named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
A man falls in love with a computer. A tricky concept to execute, but the perfect kind of crazy for Jonze who has made a career out of wrangling odd ideas with ease. Jonze has hooked us in with the body snatching of Being John Malkovich, the ultra meta screenwriting odyssey of Adaption, and the curiosity of seeing a film made from a dialogue light kids book in Where the Wild Things Are. Her is more intimate and perceptive to a timeline that's not too far away in our existence and doesn't get side-tracked with the oddball trademarks of Jonze's resume. Her focuses on the human story and not the gizmos. It defines everything that's great about science fiction, that when done right, provides the platform to ponder what it means to be a human being. Jonze creates a world where technology has made life a little easier but there is a yearning for the authentic. Theodore works for a company called 'beautiful hand written letters' (no hands involved, they are constructed on computers to look handwritten) where people pay writers to express the words they can't put on paper. In Jonze's future a whole industry has arisen to cope with the society's inability to communicate with each other, a sign of a culture increasingly plugged into devices, corresponding only via email or lost in videogames. As Theodore wanders through the eerily silent streets (Shanghai standing in beautifully for future Los Angeles) the sight of a couple is rare. Most people are strolling solo, engrossed in sophisticated mobile devices. None of these people are zonked out drones; they are having intimate conversations with other people or their operating systems, expressing their feelings and desires. Theodore and Samantha's relationship is case study in the brave new world of e-romance. Jonze scripts delicate conversations as they get to know each other and the prose built into the screenplay is wonderfully sincere. The power of the mind to transcend the body is the essence of what makes people soul mates, and you can feel Samantha and Theodore intertwined as equals. Of course, all relationships hit hard times and it's interesting seeing the flow through effects of heartbreak on Theodore, and the strength it gives him as a person going into the next partnership. There is a sweet sentiment to the power of true love and how it resonates through a life whether still connected to a person or not.
Johansson is only present in voice, and it's a smart move by Jonze, because her delicate performance draws you into the intimacy of the relationship. You can hear the smile bursting from her voice and drop in tone when something is amiss. Phoenix is endearing without veering into the creepy side of his character's personality (remember, he's in love with a microchip) which is forever present like trap waiting to catch the actor. The wounds of broken relationships are present in the dowdy way Phoenix walks; he is always apologetic, and never abrasive. It's easy to swoon for Theodore and Samantha as a couple because of the tender connection between the two leads. Amy Adams nicely fills out the role of Theodore's friend whose experiences are running parallel with her buddy. As Theodore's ex-wife, Rooney Mara gives weight to her appearances which only flicker by like memories, and Chris Pratt is a kind-hearted goofy presence playing Theodore's co-worker. There is also a supporting cast of incredible voice actors who all flesh out the digital world of voice operated devices, videogame characters, and computer systems.
Sound is essential to the excellence of Her and it's further elevated by the work of the band Arcade Fire and composer Owen Pallett on the score. Digital tones subtly pulse and they are combined with wonderful piano compositions that are used by Samantha when she is amplifying the romance of Theodore's surroundings. It's not all in the ear though, the production design, art direction and set decoration by K. K Barrett, Austin Gorg and Gene Serdena is delightful. The environments looks like IKEA and Apple had a baby and it seamlessly blends into the practicality of daily life. I especially adored the way the computers had monitors that looked more like an elegant photo frame. The clothes avoid the clichés of flashy impractical future wear. There is a minimalist style to the approach of costume designer, Casey Storm, who dresses the characters in a fashion that's appropriate to the environment where people spend less time face to face but still want to maintain a neat appearance. Lots of plaid shirts, reds, yellows and blues; the clothes speak volumes about the serene nature of society. The pants are high and look incredibly comfortable; well suited to people who spend a lot of time relaxing with technology.
Like the two main characters, romance and science fiction are infused magnificently in Her. There just aren't enough rooftops to shout my love for this film.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies