Thursday, January 16, 2014

Her (Theatrical review)

Her (2013)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, 126 minutes
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Chris Pratt

Her is a very unusual movie with some interesting observations about the way in which people are becoming more reliant on technology. It's set in Los Angeles in the not too distant future, and tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Phoenix). He works as a writer, producing flowery love letters for people who who lack the ability to express their feelings. He's good at his job.

Unfortunately, Theodore's own relationship is failing and he is soon to be divorced from his wife, Catherine (Mara). When he buys a new computer operating system, his life changes dramatically. The program adapts to his personality and needs, and evolves at a tremendous rate. This screen persona names 'herself' Samantha, and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

To his surprise and delight, Theodore finds that he is able to connect with Samantha in ways that he never could with a physical person. Communication is everything in his relationship, and he finds it easy to express his deepest thoughts and feelings to Samantha. At the outset, it's probably a form of self-analysis, but as the relationship develops, it's clear that Samantha is real to Theodore.

I think modern technology is under the microscope in this movie, and director Spike Jonze is observing how so many people are open to sharing their feelings on the Internet. It seems that many of us are less guarded and willing to risk revealing our secrets when we don't have to do it face-to-face. That's certainly true for me. The movie also deals with the irony of Theodore's success in writing about other people's feelings while struggling to communicate in his own personal life.

Theodore's best friend, Amy (Adams), is the only real person he feels comfortable talking with about the things that really matter in life. These are the kind of friends who are there for each other when they are most needed, no matter how hard it is to listen.

I don't want to spoil any of the surprises, so I'll stop talking about the plot. The story is intelligent and thoughtful in its observations, and Phoenix is exceptional as Theodore. If you're used to seeing him cast as a villain, you might find his performance refreshing. He's vulnerable and rather likable, and it's easy to empathize with the things he experiences. Despite being nominated for Best Picture, Her won't win any awards. But I'm not sure that I've seen a better acting performance all year. Phoenix has to show considerable range in the role, and does it without ever seeming as if he is acting. Amy Adams plays one of the lovable characters that we see in most of her movies, and she's perfectly cast. I could imagine myself spending the rest of my life talking to her character.

The movie raises plenty of questions about modern society. What constitutes a real relationship? Is physical contact essential? Can we exist without technology?

I found myself thinking of the Ender's Game sequels (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind) for much of the story. If you have read them, you'll know that Ender's most trusted friend was a computer program that he accessed through a jewel in his ear. His friend Jane is not too dissimilar to Samantha. I urge you to read the whole series if you enjoyed the Ender's Game movie.

As the movie ended, the audience quickly filed out, and people began accessing their cell phones. As for me, I rushed home to share my thoughts with you. We live in the virtual world far more than some of us are willing to admit.

If you like original ideas, good acting, and thoughtful stories, go and see Her. If you need a fast-paced story with plenty of action, give this one a miss.

Overall score 4.5/5

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