As we enter 2014, society continues its dynamic confrontation with increasingly advanced technology. What will become of technology in 2024, 2034, and so on? Director Spike Jonze tackles this notion in his best film yet–“Her”; where the advancement of technology has reached new heights, forcing us to reexamine our relationship with it. Taking a break from his successful collaborations with writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation.), Jonze’s screenwriting debut is haunting, humourous, and heartfelt.
OS = SO
In near-future Los Angeles, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) writes personal love letters for couples who have a difficult time expressing their feelings. Theodore becomes lonely and introverted in the midst of divorcing his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), declining numerous dinner invitations from his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher). He soon sees an Operating System being advertised to suit his every need when he takes one of his many walks around the city. Upon purchase, the new OS names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and the two begin a friendship by taking walks together, playing video games, and having Samantha edit Theodore’s beautifully written letters.
Theodore tells Samantha about a blind date with a woman (Olivia Wilde) that did not end well and the night ends with Samantha and Theodore “having sex” (Samantha lacks a human body, after all). The two begin a relationship that goes swimmingly at first but soon encounters problems. Samantha is trying to understand the innumerable emotions she experiences while the couple try to overcome her lack of physicality, going so far as to hire a body surrogate (Portia Doubleday).
“It’s like you’ve got a girl living inside you”
Perhaps it’s my MIT major, but this film really resonated with me. Jonze examines society’s love of technology literally. In doing so, he evaluates people’s relationship to each other; emphasizing themes of loneliness, narcissism, and the human condition. Most interestingly, he explores the relationship between artificial intelligence and consciousness. His writing is clearly laced with the same metaphysical and epistemological undertones as Kaufman’s.
Not only is his writing worth praise, but his direction as well. Future L.A. is abundant with neon Chinese signs and people–Theodore’s coworker Paul (Chris Pratt) is dating a Chinese woman. The mise-en-scene is filled with vibrant colours, notably Theodore’s signature bright red button-up shirt.
Falling in love is a crazy thing to do…a socially acceptable form of insanity
Jonze crafts well-developed and relatable characters that are expertly brought to life by the two leads. Forever the character actor, Phoenix plays introverted and emotionally distant Theodore as convincing as he played his rapper self circa 2009. His chemistry with Johansson was very genuine and organic. Johansson plays Samantha perfectly. I really felt her emotional and existential turmoil just by listening to her voice, a feat very difficult to achieve. One of the universe’s axioms is Johansson’s beauty, so hiding her face and emphasizing her voice initially seemed like an odd choice. But the truth is, her voice was so captivating and enigmatic that audiences will fall for Samantha as hard as Theodore does.
I can’t think of any criticism about this film. Theodore and Samantha’s relationship mirrors that of any human romantic relationship filled with happiness, jealousy, anger, sadness, and confusion; which was the whole point. Theodore’s seemingly sublime relationship with his OS is a fantastic foil to Amy’s troubled relationship to her human husband Charles. This begs the question: why invest in a human relationship fraught with incompatibilities when you can have a euphoric relationship with a computer centred around you? This is the underlying problem that Catherine brings up when signing divorce papers, which only propels the film forward.
This film is not only expertly written, directed, and acted, but hits closer to home than anyone would care to admit. “A guy who falls in love with his computer? Come on, thats just silly” is the common response from the many people reluctant to see it. I sit there letting the irony wash over me. This film is one of the year’s best. Its commercial success may not match its widespread critical praise but only because the film is years ahead of its time. You’re only hurting yourself and Jonze’s mastery by missing this film.
My Rating: 9/10