Review: Her


There might not be any city as heavily populated but bizarrely isolating as Los Angeles. While human interactions may be plentiful, there is a consistent facade present, a failure to realize genuine connection. This is not fully the fault of the individual, as the technological architecture that surrounds us facilitates the disintegration of our social lives. When the entire world can be accessed in the palm of your hand, and when you can keep up to date with friends and family online without ever needing to see them, whats the use of human interaction? While these points have been discussed ad nauseum, they are merely a starting point for Spike Jonze, who is quickly becoming one of the most vital voices in contemporary American cinema. With his latest film, Her, Jonze delivers his most contemplative film to date as he dissects the state of modern communication and further, dares to examine what human consciousness even entails.

Though his name is unbearably awkward, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a deeply sensitive soul. He uses his tender energy to write beautiful “handwritten” letters for a company in the future Los Angeles. Underneath, however, he’s aching under the pain of a year-long divorce from his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). In this future, technology has continued to tighten its grip on human consciousness. The newest innovation is the OS 1, a remarkable operating system whose uncanny human voice gradually grows and evolves as it gets to know the user. Theodore is immediately baffled by the OS 1, as it even takes on the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and is instantly in tune with Theodore’s life. Despite the lack of a physical presence, Samantha sounds more lifelike each passing day, and it isn’t long before she gets to know Theodore intimately. Despite his initial reservations, Theodore feels liberated by Samantha in ways he never has before, but as their relationship develops, the question of what constitutes a consciousness or even a soul comes to the fore.

Her is Spike Jonze’s first solo screenplay, and its structure is in line with his previous directorial efforts. Narratively relaxed but intensely perceptive, Jonze takes a exacting pulse on each scene, and the result is quietly melancholy with bursts of outrageous but not out of place humor. The director’s vision of the future of video games developed by Theodore’s eccentric friend Amy (Amy Adams), is particularly funny. But where the screenplay truly succeeds are in its ever deepening late night conversations between Theodore and Samantha. Joaquin Phoenix continues to be a sublime study in minutiae, whose face can communicate volumes simply with a twitch of the mouth or a dart of the eyes. Scarlett Johansson is left to only her soothing, raspy voice, and she works wonders with it, especially as Samantha grows more aware of her inability to be fully human. Theodore and Samatha’s interactions are fascinating, precisely because their relationship is completely artificial and yet startlingly natural. Jonze keeps from venturing into sentimental territory, and so a lack of full emotion from both is a purposeful decision. The suggestions of the loss of human communication is tactfully realized, however. As Theodore walks through crowds talking out loud to Samantha, its evident that everyone else around him is doing the same with their devices, not far removed from our current technological climate. One of the best illustrations of this comes when Theodore meets with Catherine to finalize their divorce, and both are visibly hesitant to completely move on from each other.

The Los Angeles of Her is among the most eerily familiar yet foreign portraits of a city in recent cinema. Mostly shot in Shanghai for its futuristic look, the City of Angels is pristine and radiant, having added dozens of new skyscrapers to its valleys and even a full metro system. The production design extends further into the interiors which are colorful and simplified, as if to suggest a false happiness blanketing the lonely lives of its residents. This aesthetic is brought forward even more with Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s exquisite photography, which alters from deep focus compositions to shallow depth of field closeups. The score also contributes subtlety and nuance to Jonze’s world, composed by frequent collaborators Arcade Fire. Perhaps the film makes its way to a familiar conclusion, but the detours that it explores have no ending. Easily the most thought provoking film of the year, Her is yet another triumph for Spike Jonze, at once a clever satire on our contemporary culture of communication, but more importantly, an inquiry into what becomes of our souls after we have transcended our bodies.


~ by romancinema on December 21, 2013.

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