Movie Review: 'Her' (2013)

When “The Truman Show” premiered in 1998, the idea of reality television was a distant idea and a seemingly preposterous one. Whether you thought it was the greatest idea ever or the worst, that movie would ultimately foreshadow the age of “Survivor”, “The Real World” and countless reality shows since. Movies are a window to the future, sometimes seeing as far as 50 years and other times striking a little too close to the existing timeline.

In the instance of “Her”, Spike Jonze suggests that we will communicate via a Bluetooth-like device and constantly correspond with Siri-like A.I. systems that work as a surrogate for the human experience. Depending on your perspective that is either super exciting or incredibly scary.

“Her” melds viewers into a futuristic society where a hipster named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a greeting card writer whose recent split from his wife (Rooney Mara) has caused him to slip into a depression. When he buys an operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) to fulfill his every clerical desire, their relationship takes a romantic turn.

There is so much that “Her” says without saying anything and in that way this film is magnificently poetic. In the film’s world, people need writers to express their feelings towards others on their behalf because they are apparently more incapable than ever of expressing themselves in that way.

There has been major technological progress and yet people are still aching for the creature comfort of cards, a hallmark of the past. In keeping with the yearning for the past is the increasing population of hipsters, whose dress and style is now completely embraced. While Jonze’s direction reveals certain advances there are certain areas where things are far from having improved.

People must audibly speak aloud to their O.S. possibly disrupting others train of thought or conversation and the video game Theodore plays is severely regressed, reminiscent of 80’s era pong. This particular interlude is the weakest link as the video game has conversations and behaves crudely whilst, carrying the haunting physical similarity of a Sour Patch Kid candy.

What the film has to say about the building blocks to a lasting relationship is compelling. Putting the attraction of the mind at the forefront, as Samantha is devoid of a physical form to distract Theodore’s interest. It is the ultimate human fantasy as to how a person would love to be loved and in this regard, the future that Jonze suggests is highly appealing.

Samantha is smart, funny and sophisticated. Why she is attracted to Theodore and how that relationship evolves is an appropriate metaphor for anyone in the current time continuum. The reliance on a partner to also function as a life coach and then outgrowing that person as other minds come into orbit, are all true to life experiences that technology doesn’t need to catch up to.

“Her” isn’t really about technology, though it offers subtle commentary on the effect it could have on society as it permeates our every day way of life. Interestingly, the question of artificial intelligence being regarded as a human being isn’t questioned or particularly examined like it was in 2012’s heartfelt “Robot & Frank”.

Joaquin Phoenix aims for the off-beat, outcast motif with his incarnation of Theodore and he hits his mark. It’s a bit wallowing and depressing for my taste. However, that is how the character is written. Scarlett Johansson gives her career best performance in her solely vocal role.

It is the first time in her career that a part has really allowed her to be seen as an actress, as strange as that may sound. Amy Adams is excellent as Theodore’s friend trying to find her place in the world. Almost unrecognizable in yet another transformative role, Adams continues to wow with her chameleon-like ability to disappear into character.

Striking an emotional truth, the relatable manner in which Jonze grounds the sci-fi is the strongest point of the film. The preview it offers into the future seems remarkably authentic and inevitable. There’s an indie edge to “Her” that engages thought and sentimental musings. How it ends up fitting into the real future is an interesting notion to consider and an answer only time can provide. Rating: 7.6/10

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