IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 126 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It is 2025.Theodore Twombly is a lonely, introverted man who writes personal love letters for people with difficulties expressing their feelings. Unhappy because of his impending divorce from childhood sweetheart Catherine, Theodore purchases a talking operating system with artificial intelligence, designed to adapt and evolve. He decides he wants it to have a female identity, and she names herself Samantha. Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. They bond over their discussions about love and life, during which Theodore explains he is avoiding signing his divorce papers, because of his reluctance to let go of Catherine. Theodore then goes on a blind date, and they hit it off, but he seems unwilling to commit to her…..
The wife and I were having a pub lunch yesterday and another couple came and sat at the table to my right. I wasn’t sure if they were married, as I forgot to look and see if they had wedding rings, but they seemed like a married couple. They sat down, ordered some food to the waitress, and then, for the next half an hour, were both lost in their own digital space. The man was on his phone on Facebook, scrolling furiously like he had an terrible itch, for half an hour. The wife had a tablet and was playing something I was informed was Candy Crush Saga. The 30 mins of complete ignoring of each other [and the couple in no way looked they had had a row or weren’t getting on] ended when their food arrived [it was a busy Sunday and food took a long time to get to the tables], which they proceeded to devour. O, I forgot to tell you that the couple were at least in their 60’s, proving that being digitally obsessed is no longer the province of the young, though it’s certainly a normal thing now to see two mates meet up for a drink and seemingly a natter, only to spend almost the entire times on their phones. Trains are now filled with people lost in cyberspace rather than people making conversation with each other. Several times, I’ve had to tell someone to turn their bloody phone off during a film, the pathetic individuals in question obviously unable to tear themselves away from being ‘connected’ [yet in many ways actually being ‘disconnected’] for more than five minutes.
It is interesting and somewhat concerning times we live in, our increasing dependency on evolving technologies making many things easier and certainly having benefits, but also starting to restrict us from doing things like interacting with the person next to you. The new film from Spike Jonze, the single-minded director of Being John Malkovitch, Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are, not to mention some of the best music videos ever [in fact the man seems to have done everything], is a slightly sweet but very sad commentary on the way we seem to be headed. The subject matter isn’t entirely original, with films such as Electric Dreams having delved into similar waters back in the 80’s, and even TV series episodes, anime and computer games having more than flirted with such material before. Watching Jonze’s film, I, being a Kate Bush lover, couldn’t get her song Deeper Understanding out of my mind. However, Her still seems fresh, partly because it seems to downplay the science-fiction aspects and make it all seem very plausible. It’s set in 2025, not far away, and its world is one that we could end up being part of.
Her opens with a close-up shot of Joaquin Phoenix’s face, and you’d better get used to his face, because you see it in close-up a lot. Not only does it prove how different glasses and a moustache can make someone look, but it proves yet again what a brilliant actor Phoenix is, truly one of the best of his generation. Physically he doesn’t actually do that much, but he’s able to register so much emotion on his face while still coming across as a guy who seems alienated from society and has trouble having what can be seen as normal feelings, his only outlay for this being his job, where he has a knack for writing other people’s love letters. Theodore finds it hard to, in his own words: “Prioritise between video games and internet porn” [the response being:”I’d so laugh if that wasn’t true”]. Deeply saddened by his coming divorce, when he’s not at work he walks around all the time with the earpiece of his internet phone constantly glued to his ear, always amongst other people but also separate from them. He eventually finds a connection with another female, only it’s a machine. Over half of Her consists of Theodore and Samantha, as his OP [operating system], talking, though the superb acting of Phoenix [Scarlett Johansson doing okay as the voice of Samantha though I feel the original choice Samantha Morton would have been better], the pointed writing of Jonze [this is the first of his films based on source material by himself], and the slow, dreamy rhythm make quite an intoxicating mix.
Her has been highly praised by many critics. It is a praise-worthy film, but I don’t think it’s quite worth all the adulation it has received. After around the half way mark, it seems to stall, and appears like it could do with the odd extra ingredient to keep its story consistently compelling. Jonze seems to hold back in a film which initially seems like it’s going to be really fearless, off-the-wall and daring. The ending is almost thrown away, though I suppose there’s only a small number of ways a tale like this can really end. Technically the film is erratic, with clever, superbly composed shots mixed with clumsy, rushed-seeming ones. The film is supposedly set in an American city, but even if you don’t recognise certain Shanghai buildings, you’ll certainly notice Chinese writing in some shots. Perhaps this was an artistic choice, but it jars with the generally realistic approach of the film. I don’t feel that Jonze has entirely pulled off what he’s trying to do, even if it’s obvious what he’s trying to say. His film does have a similar feel and close thematic links [such as our searching for a connection] to Lost In Translation, though it’s not a hollow bore like that film. It is rather ‘cold’, which is probably appropriate, though that limited this viewer from being totally emotionally engaged with what was going on. One scene though, involving Theodore, Samantha and a ‘surrogate’ woman, is desperately sad as well as, in its own way, being very relatable: for a start, don’t we all know someone who just has to be in a relationship? It’s probably the best scene in the film: touching, believable, and just a little bit funny.
In fact this generally sombre picture does have some very amusing moments that lighten the mood but, more importantly, usually emphasise the social commentary. Theodore’s phoning of a sex line where the woman wants him to choke her with a dead cat is possibly the highlight in this area. The humour does tend to drop off after around half way. The heart of the film for me was Theodore’s relationship with his best [human] friend Amy [another excellent performance from the ever-busy Amy Adams, who by now has well and truly atoned for her shoddy acting in Man Of Steel] who seems to totally understand him. You may end up screaming at them to get together, because they seem made for each other. The other female characters in the film, Theodore’s ex-wife Catherine and an un-named blind date, both have great moments, are well cast, and are convincing as real people. Theodore’s flashbacks to his life with Catherine are visually bright and sunny, contrasting greatly with the gloomy sterility that surrounds his current existence. When he meets with her to sign the divorce papers, it’s still bright and sunny, but now feels artificial. The use of colour and set design throughout seems extremely thought through and they’re cleverly applied without drawing attention to itself. The mostly electronic score by the band Electric Fire feels organically like an essential part of the piece and casts its own calm mood of dehumanisation. Two piano pieces that in the film are written by Samantha are well applied to two brief scenes where Theodore, for a short while, feels a part of his surroundings.
There is a lot to say about Her, and a lot to like, but I can’t help feeling that much of the praise directed at it is because it’s so timely and what it is saying about us now. The script could have done with some work in the latter half and, while its feeling of sterility is part of the point, it’s a bit monotonous and distant. It’s still a must-see though – despite its stars I’m amazed to see such an offbeat film hit most of the multi-plexes, and we should support this fact – and will provide much food for thought, while its first half hour is almost perfect. While it takes place in the near future, it also feels totally of the ‘now’, Jonze totally hitting on something, and in that respect it can be termed a major success.