Sometimes movies take you back to a painful place in your life, or they can open your mind and heart to untold possibilities. The movies that resonate most with me are those like Her, which struck an emotional chord with its subtle, deeply moving performances and beautiful cinematography. The film captures the very essence of what it feels like to be in love, from those early stages of rapture, to the uncertainty and fear experienced when a once vibrant love affair begins to dwindle. To be in love is to feel new and alive in a way that you’ve never felt before, and director Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are) has given us a very interesting, moving film.
The film is set in an unspecified period in the future. Jonze doesn’t overwhelm us with flying cars or anything too deep within the realm of sci-fi; rather he shows us a very plausible world where our gadgetry and technology are significantly advanced. We’re introduced to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, The Master), a quiet unassuming man who works as a “letter writer,” an odd profession involving personalized hand-written correspondence akin to a greeting card. Theodore seems reclusive, but he isn’t without social graces. We see him interact with others, but there is a hint of social ineptitude. One day he purchases a new operating system for his computer, and his life begins to change.
The operating system is an interactive upgrade, capable of basic tasks like reading his email, but much more. If a person were able to read your emails, check your browsing history, read every tweet or Facebook post you’ve ever written, and all of the appointments in your calendar – a picture would begin to emerge. The operating system can do this in an instant, and so it quickly learns about Theodore’s personality and the recent events in his life, including a pending divorce. Theodore was able to choose the operating system’s gender, and chose a female that ultimately named herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon). Initially he uses Samantha as a functional tool, but she is so advanced that she responds emotionally to him. Eventually they form the equivalent of a long-distance relationship, conversing regularly and bonding deeply. Samantha is able to share Theodore’s world because there is a camera on his mobile device and he can hear her with an earpiece. They go on “double dates,” and even have phone sex.
I don’t really want to discuss the plot any further; I think I’ve set it up for you sufficiently. I’d rather point out the things that I enjoyed about the film. Firstly, Phoenix turns in one of his most memorable performances. This guy is really talented when he’s not making faux documentaries (I’m Still Here). Theodore and Samantha’s “relationship” waxes and wanes, and the slight tonal shifts Phoenix conveyed were outstanding. The ebb and flow of their relationship was fascinating, because Samantha is never pictured (obviously). That means that Phoenix has no counterpart to physically play off of, and that Johansson must do EVERYTHING with her voice. It was brilliant.
Secondly, Jonze did some incredible things from a visual perspective. The staging and usage of color and light was genius. In one scene, Phoenix is shown up close as sunlight filters through the camera lens, the drops of sunlight flickering to and fro. We feel the emotional connection between characters and feel like we are taking the journey with Theodore. In another scene, Samantha composes a melodic ditty that perfectly captures the shared moment between the two. Sound, light, and color blended perfectly as we witnessed a magical emotional display.
Some may reduce this movie to its plot and say that it’s about a man who falls in love with his computer – but that would be a disservice to the filmmaker and all involved. This was a film about love and that deeply human connection that we so desperately need to establish with another person – whether we admit it or not. And while Samantha wasn’t human in the actual sense, we never doubted the authenticity of their connection – and that’s kind of what makes the movie so special. When you’re in love the sun shines brighter. You view the world through different eyes, and Her captured this perfectly. There were elements that reminded me of Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – so if you liked anything about either of those movies, I think you’ll enjoy. Grade: A-