Odd that a film this disturbing and provocative could be genial and nonchalant as well. Her was a lot more critical and complex than I thought I was going to get, for some reason, I figured the subject was going to be treated frivolously. Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) conjectures a future love story between a lovesick sap (Joaquin Phoenix, terrific) and an artificial intelligence computer named Samantha that is velvet-voiced (Scarlett Johansson, pitch perfect). The sap Theodore Twombly composes beautiful written letters for a living, supposedly nobody in the future knows how to write verse. He has an ex-wife (Rooney Mara, typical mood swings revealed in flashbacks), a college gal pal (Amy Adams, dorked up and equally tech dependent), and a videogame fascination where the game avatar razzes him with crass language.
Jonze has a delicate touch with satire though, so all the while, he wants you think that this future Los Angeles could actually be plausible one day. People still do normal things like we do know, like go to the beach, only Theo takes his OS – with a camera eye – with him. The more the computer, err Samantha, experiences the more advanced and adaptable she will become. She manages the files of Theo’s life like a secretary, and more kinkily, sets up Theo with a sex surrogate. Theo turns down sex with a blonde because it doesn’t feel right, it feels like cheating.
The film is populated by other strange or awkward behaviors, I liked Theo’s male co-worker who seems to have a crush on him because of his sensitive writing ability. The same co-worker goes out on a double date with Theo and his OS, and the brilliant Samantha runs the conversation. It’s so easy for computers of the future to entertain us, we think. Nobody has to talk to anybody but their own computer.
And so for the second time this month (after “All is Lost”) I want to mention the brilliance of the Sound Design. We hear the statics, the silences, and the computer hiss off in the background. Theo is never really alone, but the sound design accompanying the visuals lets us know he’s really alone. Alone and delusional. For its sleek polish and rose-tinted glow, this is one of the three best cinematography jobs of the year, too. Hoyte van Hoytema (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) is credited. Scenes were partially filmed in Shanghai, China as well as L.A. to imagine a future Los Angeles.
I laughed many times, was stirred by the film and its message – and if I’m not the most enthusiastic “Her” fan this year – slightly depressed. That’s not Jonze’s fault, he does everything he can to be smart and witty about this sci-fi concept. But a society hooked to hardware and disengaged from social interaction is depressing, is a by-product emotion with the material. Somehow, Phoenix makes you see the off-centered nature of his character and his redeeming sensitivity, too. Phoenix and Johannson (as just a voice) have a terrific rapport that isn’t labored, you’re tickled by them.
The ending is inevitable I suppose, and it’s a smart one. And yet I wondered if the ending was Jonze’s first 100% choice. I thought of a few other merciless ideas that could have happened. Theo takes his OS to the mountains for a getaway, to enjoy the scenery, and yet I wondered what would happen if Theo became trapped there and needed a human to pull him out. I, of course, wondered what would happen if Theo’s own computer rejected him. “Her” makes you fear a becoming world that is too perfectly functional, for the slightest thing that goes wrong would be in fact devastating. Jonze’s latest is fine food for thought.
120 Minutes. Rated R.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / ROMANCE / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968); “eXistenZ” (1999); “A.I.” (2001); “Code 46” (2003).