- Movie Rating -

Her (2013)

| January 26, 2014 | 1 Comments

The world around Theodore Twombly contains a lot of empty space.  In his job, in his social life, and in his heart, he is a lonely man.  He’s not depressing to be around, but you sense that there is a good deal of melancholy about him.  You might passively notice him at work, but if you passed him on the street, you might not notice him at all.  All those years ago, when Paul McCartney asked “All the lonely people/Where do they all come from?”, Theodore Twombly may have had the answer.  For Theodore, like all the lonely people in the 21st century, he finds solace in his computer.

Spike Jonze’s quirky, arresting, and quite beautiful science fiction love story named her takes place in the not-too-distant future, when hologram video games have moved into our living rooms and man-made operating systems have begun to think and feel for themselves.  Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) engages fully in this world. His loneliness is bred from a recent divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara).  Emotionally, he has passed the stage of regret about the break-up and moved on to the point in which he is looking for some measure of human connection.  Dating is difficult, and a brief excursion into phone sex turns out to be less than satisfying.

His loneliness is broken by the introduction of an Operating System that becomes his constant companion.  Her name is Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a highly advanced disembodied talking computer companion that learns about Theodore’s life partly from their conversations, but mostly from what she learns from researching his hard drive.  She freely admits that she is evolving moment by moment, and is always conscious of the fact that she doesn’t have a body.  To Theodore, she’s beguiling, smart, eager to please, with a breathy voice that is kind of sexy cool.  She is also emotionally delicate, and easily hurt.  Samantha is the perfect antidote to a lonely soul.  That we know Johannson so well as the current male fantasy works in her favor.  This is the best performance she has ever given, a disembodied voice that becomes flesh and blood in our minds.

Naturally, Theodore bonds quickly with Samantha.  She is smart, funny, and intuitive and she likes him.  He takes her out into the world via an earpiece and a small device that allows her to see the world around her.  He falls in love with Samantha and vice versa, but he is aware at all times of the wall that separates them.  She knows it too and tries to find creative ways around it.

“her” never goes where we expect, nor does the story turn so creepy that it keeps us at a distance.  In fact, this is a very heartfelt movie that keeps this odd scenario rooted firmly to the ground.  There’s nothing here that couldn’t actually happen.  The movie takes place through Theodore’s eyes and he never falls into defending his relationship.  In fact, for most of the movie, he’s bewildered by it.

“her” was directed by Spike Jonze, who has become the great authority on breaking down the walls of the human mind.  He previously made “Being John Malkovich” about a group of people who find a portal into the titular actor’s mind.  And he made “Adaptation” which featured Nicholas Cage as twin brothers.  “her” is just as good, a film is filled with great imagery of an empty, lonely future.  The set design is brilliant.  Large rooms are sparsely filled, stripped down to their bare essentials, as if the narrowing of the computer user has focused so firmly on the computer screen that the rest of the world has become irrelevant.  Jonze’s cockeyed view of the world is not too far from the truth, and not that unreasonable.

Here he has created a movie that evolves in ways that we don’t expect.  Samantha’s evolution grows and grows into a brilliant finale that is unexpected but also quite reasonable.  There is no way to know where the movie is going, and that’s the film’s great thrill.  His screenplay allows Samantha issues of jealously, infidelity and much worse.  The story could have gone a hundred different ways but Jonze finds a delicate balance to an an odd scenario that plays as much with the head as it does with the heart.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.