Her – Review


The actors in Her are certainly playing against type aren’t they? Joaquin Phoenix plays a brilliant but odd sensitive artist type, Scarlett Johansson plays a smoky-voiced object of desire, Amy Adams is adorable and Rooney Mara is prickly and impenetrable.

Sarcasm aside, the performances in Her are genuinely great across the board. This is the first time I’ve seen Phoenix since the I’m Not Here fiasco, and he is so good I’m genuinely grateful his abandonment of acting in favor of hip hop was (allegedly) a hoax, or some type of performance art.  Johansson does a lot with the only tool available to her in this case – her voice, and they thankfully avoided the temptation to include her physical presence into the movie as some sort of cheeky cameo. I kept waiting for her to pop up as an employee of the company that developed her OS or something.

It’s remarkably easy to buy into the conceit. Right out of the box, Samantha is immediately able to understand the use (mimic?) such nebulous human traits as humor, sarcasm, self-awareness and the most tricky of complex emotions. The way she interacts with Theodore, she may as well be a human being sitting at another computer somewhere else in the world – her artificial nature is only betrayed by how instantly she is able to process vast amounts of data. Her “personality” is instantly disarming, full of suspiciously human quirks and speech patterns. She’s more advanced than Iron Man’s Jarvis, and somehow more plausible. That a human being could fall in love with this entity doesn’t challenge your disbelief.

The tone of the film reminded me a lot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Visually as well as thematically. Subconsciously favored memories of his past failed relationship frequently intrude on Theodore’s life at inopportune moments, and we get to witness these fleeting moments. As previously alluded, Rooney Mara plays volatile and closed off effortlessly, so she’s super effective during her brief post-breakup scenes, but kind of hard to believe during those happy, idealized memories. That could just be my own impression of the actress coloring the performance though. I’d wager it is.

As for the meat of the story, the film gracefully underplays questions about the technology and logistics of “Samantha”, to say nothing of the near-future world itself. The story simply takes place in that setting – there’s no hand-holding, no interrupting the movie to bring the audience up to speed. It’s not Back to the Future Part 2, nor is it a grimy, bleak Children of Men. It’s our world, just 20 or so years hence (I’d reckon even earlier if it weren’t for the noticeably altered Los Angeles skyline). There are shades of our current sociological progression, extrapolated in the way people react to Theodore (and others) openly dating an operating system. The reaction isn’t outrage or ridicule, but instant acceptance of this peculiar lifestyle choice. In the America of the future, is there any such thing as a “peculiar” lifestyle choice?

This refusal to tip into sci-fi territory allows us to focus on the love story at the heart of it all. And that’s all this movie ultimately is – a melancholy romantic comedy with a twist. Just like Eternal Sunshine, it uses the zest of a fictional perception-altering technology to explore our most elemental and storied questions about love and companionship. More to the point, how does one move on from painful relationship experiences and keep fighting for the joy that seems more and more impossible to achieve?

The way Theodore and Samantha’s relationship ultimately culminates could have been played so many different ways, and the one we get in the movie will raise plenty of questions for anybody interested in the philosophical/technological quandaries it brings up. But those questions aren’t answered, because again, the movie isn’t about them. It’s about us. It’s always about us.

Comment (1)

  1. Love this movie .I think I fall in love with my cell phone 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *