2013 just may have saved one of the best films for last. Spike Jonze has knocked it out of the park with his most recent film- Her. Exploring complicated themes, Her is Jonze’s most mature and personal film he’s created. What exactly makes a relationship real? Does love exist if it is between a human and a machine, or better yet between two machines? Are humans devolving while computers continue to evolve? Her is not only an intimate examination of relationships but an essay on mankind. Deep questions are raised, and yet the film still portrays one of the most honest and believable depictions of falling in love. But more than relationships and love, Her is a observation about where mankind is heading.
In the not-too-distant-future, mankind is so connected to technology that they are becoming less connected to each other. Thus Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his day writing personal love letters for other people who struggle to express how they feel. While Theodore’s talent at writing is obvious, he continues to struggle with everyday relationships. Divorced and alone, Theodore purchases a new operating system (OS1) designed to be like a real person; evolving and learning the more it interacts with humans. Through his new OS, which names itself Samantha, Theodore slowly begins to experience happiness and friendship again. Theodore is once again able to grow and enjoy life- and oddly enough so is Samantha. In a very intimate, yet awkward scene, Theodore and Samantha try having cyber-sex. During the course of passionate interplay, Samantha begins to discover a new feeling- one of being alive. Her progression towards being human is connected to Theodore’s development of enjoying life. As Theodore begins to enjoy life again, he begins to take Samantha everywhere (using a safety pin in his shirt pocket to allow his phone-like device’s camera to see what he sees) as they experience the world together. But soon things begin to become complicated as their relationship develops beyond friendship. In her pursuit to become real, Samantha begins to experiment and change in ways that leaves Theodore feeling awkward and confused.
It’s these moments, however, that make Her such an honest film, as the difficult (and often dirty) parts of relationships are explored. Love is often messy and uncomfortable, but often worth the effort. Jonze explores this and more, raising questions and then allowing us to seek our own answers. There’s much to take in, but thankfully Jonze’s pacing of the film doesn’t distract with too many cerebral situations. There’s much humor througout, helping keep the film afloat when it starts to feel too weighty. And thanks to the unique eye of Spike Jonze, there’s much to gaze upon. Soft, warm colored palettes run throughout the film, with red (passion) being the most prominent. Jonze also mixes the old with the new, as both technology and wardrobe have a vintage vibe within a cold, modernistic world. The score by Arcade Fire (with Owen Pallett) helps create longing and desire, fitting wonderfully within the world Jonze has created.
It’s the performances, however, that make the film. Much of the camera focuses solely on Theodore’s face as he talks to Samantha, and Joaquin he is able to carry much of the film. His performance is so achingly beautiful, it’s amazing that he is acting to just a voice. Originally Samantha Morton was going to play Samantha, even acting opposite Joaquin on set in a sound booth. Morton was eventually replaced by Scarlett Johansson, and yet their interaction is so remarkably believable it’s amazing that they weren’t acting against each other. Joaquin turns in a more soft-spoken, eloquent performance (following his intense turn in The Master). But even more commanding is Johansson, who’s curiosity, determination, and desire is brilliantly portrayed through just her voice (and what a lovely one it is). It isn’t difficult to imagine Samantha as real, as her interactions with Theodore evolve and grow.
In a world where many are already plugged into their technological devices and AI like Siri and IBM’s Watson are slowly becoming ubiquitous, Her doesn’t seem to far off in the future. And while even bigger questions could have been raised, Jonze keeps the film small and intimate- allowing us to explore not only the future, but the that which makes us human.