Her (5 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by Spike Jonez (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson
As I was staring at my phone this morning, the Grindr application looked me square in the face, and I realized at the moment it's a modern version of the OS (operating system) in the film. No, our current modern day "dating" applications are not exactly the same thing, but the goal often feels similar.
Her centers around a lonely writer named Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who has been dealing with his marriage failing. Theodore finds solace in an OS designed to meet the need the individual. Theodore's OS names itself Samantha (voiced by Johansson). Samantha like any computer can edit letters, look up information, but there is something more intimate to the design of this computer system. As Theodore and Samantha talk more there is a connection which grows, and the relationship between man and machine reaches a new level.
There is brilliance in the work from director/writer Spike Jonez, which not only highlights the difficulty of recovering from a meaningful relationship, while also commenting on the way people use technology as a means to cope with anything. Jonez is masterful at creating films, which on paper seem out of this world, but are grounded in the recesses of emotional experiences, like Being John Malkovich, and Where the Wild Things Are. Her is meant to live within the future of Los Angeles where the style feels like a blend 60s clothing, and modern office layouts. K. K. Barrett's production design sets the stage so well making you feel as though you do and don't know time and place, adding to the mystique of the film.
With the design set Jonez has one thing in mind, get Theodore over his marriage ending. Joaquin Phoenix tackles the pain/innocence of someone going through this perfectly. Phoenix has played all range of characters over the years, last year's The Master was his best, but his acting in Her proves the range of Phoenix as an actor. Most of this performance is about his eyes, they convey every little moment from the pain as he reminisces to the joy as he starts to find happiness with Samantha. Johansson's voicing of Samantha is some of the best acting I have seen this year, but yet she's only a voice. Johansson plays an OS a computer, a machine, but you feel as though she is going through the same emotional journey Theodore experiences.
Jonez is brilliant at building the syntax to connect these bridges; he sets up this great romance between Theodore and Samantha, makes you root for their relationship like any other film. On the other hand Jonez also conveys the message that in today's society humans fear the rejection from others so much we are willing to cling to machines, in this case an OS named Samantha. Like with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film has you question the value in an OS. In Mind you question erasing a past relationship in this you wonder "would I get an OS to get over someone?"
Has society already moved toward using technology as a modern form of the OS, back to Grindr, and then take that further to twitter, porn, and even blogs like this. We seek sexual release without human contact, we slam a restaurant without even a worry because there is no face to face contact. Theodore's writing job in the film involves writing letters for other people, whether for a birthday or anniversary. In Her people are using a professional interface to write something to someone else. Is a machine less complicated, would an OS solve the problem or is it the human contact?
One of my favorite parts of the film is when Samantha acts as though she is out of breath, and Theodore questions how a machine can gasp for oxygen. An argument begins, and poses the question of a machiens evolution, to mimic humanity. Yet at the end of the film Theodore gasps for air as though its a sigh of his own release, brilliant connection, which gets at understanding how to deal with life. Jonez's film takes your breath away, this is one of the best films of the year.