"The past is just a story we tell ourselves."
Her is writer/director Spike Jonze's beautifully surreal yet emotionally sensitive think piece about the nature of love and technology. Through the use of strong, warm visuals and thoughtful writing about futurism, consciousness, and feelings, the film explores the nature of relationships and (artificial) intelligence. Constructed almost like a comic fable or bittersweet fairytale, the concept of a lonely man falling in love with his operating system manages to seem so strangely intimate and wholly romantic.
Joaquin Phoenix is masterfully affecting and superbly touching framed up and close in nearly every scene. He's tasked to display quietly gentle emotions all in his face, usually interacting with Scarlett Johansson's sexy but disembodied voice as Samantha, his personal OS and lover. Her titular vocal performance is so well-rounded, fleshed out in every way (except visually, of course) with the gentle rasp, sultry tones full of personality, wit, and a strange technological charm. Their chemistry is all the more compelling considering they never acted with each other as Johanssson was cast well after shooting, replacing Samantha Morton. She's so curious and inquisitive in her self-discovery and awareness, learning and refining her performance as the film progresses. In a way, she outgrows Theodore and his humanity.
Despite its stylish preciousness, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema creates such a rich and vivid visual world of a Shanghai inspired, futuristic Los Angeles utopian metropolis. Warm colours, high pants, moustaches, and twee hipster fashion fills the screen for some elaborately splendid world building around a twisted romantic comedy. We lose ourselves just as Theodore and Samantha do in each other and the world. Her successfully recreates the feeling of falling in and out of love with people, ideas, and concepts. Surrounded by people, everyone feels just as disembodied and alone as Samantha does, avoiding interactions, deeply consumed by their own lives online on their phones.
Phoenix's Theodore Twombly plays well against his caring neighbour played by Amy Adams in a effectively sympathetic role. Rooney Mara is nuanced and layered appearing briefly and mostly in flashbacks as Theodore's more elusively combative ex-wife. Through only a handful of characters and mostly Phoenix's face, Jonze delights in expressing loneliness surrounded by breathless landscapes. The use of technology is both mesmerizing and familiar as intriguing extensions of contemporary advancements so thoughtfully developed, realized, and executed.
What's so remarkable about Her as an achievement is how it captures how we share our lives with each other today. Parts of the film are extended montages of memories and highlights as Theodore tries to capture his life at its best while being sad and unsatisfied in reality. Samantha quickly becomes more aware of herself and her limitations as a machine (and strangely more human), but also, the limitations of being human and the freedom that comes with existing digitally and not physically. It's so socially relevant to our present while reflecting on the pure humanity of its characters. Isolation is sublimated through themes of divorce, long distance relationships, and the nature of our own (illogical) human emotions.
Her is a wonderful, interactive portrait of falling in love injected with sometimes hysterical humour about relationships subverted through our wistful interactions with technology. Its creative and empathetic quality is simultaneously wondrous and heartbreaking. With a moody, memory like feeling, Jonze frames the film as past and present experiencing things for the first time. Like Being John Malkovich, Her is a timely, dizzyingly inventive, and surprisingly personal, sincere look at complex human feelings and self-awareness. It steals your heart and your OS.
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