‘Spike Jonze’s Her is a triumph, as thought-provoking as it is stylishly beautiful.’
Her, Spike Jonze’s new romantic almost-comedy set in a flagrantly hipster L.A. of the near future, is brilliantly original, yet any explanation of the film’s premise must be qualified with the assurance that ‘it’s not like it sounds’. To say that it is simply about a man who falls in love with his computer, although accurate, belies the complexities of the plot and does nothing to capture the sheer yet subtle imagination behind the film.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a slightly creepy looking loner whose life has somewhat fallen apart since the collapse of his marriage, and who now mopes around in hoisted slacks and sleeveless red shirts in a daze of nostalgia. One cannot help but feel for Theodore, whose endearing sensitivity is evident from the start as he recites a beautiful love letter written by him for someone else to send – he works at beautifullyhandwrittenletters.com, possibly the most enviable job in the world. When Theodore purchases the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, he meets Samantha, the system’s female interface voiced by Scarlett Johanssen, and the film’s quirky love story begins.
Frequent dream-like flashbacks, blurred montages of wheeling smiles, and the occasional shot of Phoenix thoughtfully contemplating in hazy sunshine perfectly encapsulate the film’s restrained surrealism, pushing the viewer into a reverie in which key themes can be best observed. The slight futurism of the film provides a situation familiar enough to draw the viewer into Theodore’s world, yet alien enough to allow these themes, in truth as traditional as any, to be revealed in a new, thought-provoking light. This effect is aided by Phoenix’s elegantly nuanced performance and Johanssen’s expressiveness, not to mention the quality of the support cast; Amy Adams portrayal of Theodore’s ex-girlfriend is particularly memorable.
Moving bedroom scenes question the need for physical contact between boy and girl, a pertinent observation in this world of skype-facilitated long-distance relationships; contrasting reactions to the film’s central love affair, from unthinking acceptance to mild revulsion, question society’s acceptance of unconventionality; and the compatibility of individuals who see the world from fundamentally different perspectives becomes a prominent issue as the film progresses. The film is littered with light humour that effectively counterbalances these deeper issues, but never strays too far to draw attention away from them.
One could criticize the film’s slip into moralisation at its conclusion, but in truth, the context of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is too unique for any meaningful melancholia to become clichéd or boring, and the film’s final scenes are as stimulating as they come. Karen Orzolek’s beautifully delicate ‘The Moon Song’, first played by Theodore on screen and reprised at the film’s conclusion, sums up Her’s atmosphere faultlessly, encompassing the surprising warmth, captivating unconventionality and overall charm of Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated triumph.