My favorite movie of 2013. . .
Siri, Google Now, and to a lesser extent Samsung’s S Voice are all voice recognition technologies that talk back to the user. Currently, voice recognition software is limited to listening to your voice and then performing whatever action you request of it, with the results being read aloud using advanced text-to-speech.
Spike Jonze’s Her is a movie that considers the evolution of this technology to the point where voice recognition technology can learn. Based on parameters established by the user, this technology takes over a personality customized to each and every user. The system is called the OS One, implying a significant leap in technology for a new origin name. The fact that these operating systems have personalities and can adapt and learn to each situation, and have highly advanced processors, and now relationship forming capabilities make them superhuman in their computing. All of this is irrelevant thematically. Jonze uses the OS Ones and a nearly science-fiction environment to explore a character, and to question the criteria for a relationship between humans and technology.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead, Theodore Twombly, whose internal conflict is the center of the entire character-study film. Theodore is someone who finds difficulty maintaining lasting and legitimate human relationships, whether they are with his co-worker (Chris Pratt), ex-wife (Rooney Mara) or blind date (Olivia Wilde). The only person who Theodore seems to genuinely care about is his friend Amy (Amy Adams) who is married.
This is where Theodore’s OS One comes into play. Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is a personalized, worry-free, and extremely easy to talk to computerized human. The phrasing there is intentional, as she has a personality and reacts and talks like any other human would.
Initially Theo and Samantha’s relationship consists similarly to that of the previous voice recognition software, but quickly sexual tension builds between the two. This is used as a gag but as the film develops, both the viewer and the creator respect Theodore for his decisions. Because of this deliberate choice by Jonze, the movie does not become a portrayal of a truly pathetic man, instead it becomes about their relationship that feels genuine: a relationship between a man and his operating system that looks and feels like a legitimate relationship. This plot-point perfectly envelops the theme of questioning the parameters necessary to form a relationship between a human and another human, or a human and something else.
Her realizes this genuine emotion primarily through the performances and script, both of which are stellar. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Theodore is fantastic. He has great comic timing, and more importantly incorporates aspects of his own life to portray Theodore as fragile. The fragility in Theodore is not entirely evident in the script, but it works so well with the dialogue that it would be difficult to imagine another actor playing the role.
Oh, and that script. This is Jonze’s first script he wrote without a partner, and it is one of the most incredible screenplays of the year, and it just got deservedly nominated for an Oscar. As the New York Times review points out, “In Her, the great question is not whether machines can think, but whether human beings can still feel.”
This quote might push potential viewers to dismiss this movie as preachy. However, the film is so entertaining and fascinating on the surface that if you wish to delve deeply into the philosophic questions suggested by the film, it only enhances the experience.
I have to address the elephant in the room: the sex scenes. The movie has some fairly graphic sounds between Theodore and Samantha, and a surrogate woman who wants to be a physical part of a human-OS relationship. The sex is not gratuitous nor is it unnecessary. Without the sexual relationship between Theodore and Samantha, their relationship as a whole would be intangible. For tonal consistency, sex is necessary in this movie and it’s handled tastefully.
Spike Jonze influenced everyone who worked on this movie to coincide with his cohesive vision for this project. This is no easy task, considering the sheer number of people who work on a film. Every single person, whether they are involved in writing, camera work, set design, costume design, or prop design, worked with Jonze’s vision of a futuristic Los Angeles. This makes one of the cohesive and consistently beautiful looking movies I’ve seen in a long time.
Jonze even influenced the music for the film. The score, with input from Jonze, was written by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. Jonze also collaborated with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the theme song The Moon Song. Both have received Oscar nominations.
Her is a movie that had a creator with a vision, and Jonze ensured that vision got realized. It’s one of the best looking, best written, best acted, and best scored movies of 2013 and it’s an absolute must-see. Her is one of the most versatile movies I’ve seen in a while as well, going from laugh-out-loud funny to deeply profound in a matter of sentences. This is a movie that is bound to impress everyone who sees it in one aspect or another and is one of the best movies I have seen this decade so far.
Running Time: 126 mins
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%