Her (2013), by Spike Jonze
By Conor Plosia
The love story in narrative fiction has been done one too many times for my preference; the motion picture business is flooded with cheesy tales of young men and women falling in love. What stands apart with Her is the deeper sense of understanding of what it means to be “in love;” in a way it redefines romance on the screen.
The Spike Jonze film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Chris Pratt. It’s an eclectic cast that helps bring the futuristic romance together.
Phoenix plays Theodore, a personal letter-writer in the midst of a divorce who’s discovering how hard a life alone can be. He seems to be somewhat of a broken romantic by the time he comes upon Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a computer processing system that can impersonate human life. He embraces her warmth and comforting new innocence with open arms, and they begin to date. As their relationship progresses, we see others in their society becoming romantic with their own computer systems – and those who rebel against the idea.
Her was the closing film of the New York Film Festival. It played to a packed house on a fall Saturday morning. The film had just been finished in the editing room, so this was the world premiere. Jonze and his crew of actors show up for a Q&A afterwards. Joaquin was notably chipper from the moment he was mistakenly introduced as Rooney Mara. For the bulk of the event, Phoenix slouched in his set, puffing away at his E-cigarette and making jokes while Jonze was friendly and open to any questions. The latter cited that the visuals for his Los Angeles of the future (filmed in Shanghai) were deeply inspired by the color schemes of Jamba Juice.
The film itself feels like a very calm utopia, a place where humanity is clearly more dependent on technology than we are in our present time (though we’re not too far off from the world Her suggests). Jonze accomplishes something beautiful here; it is a sweet relief of a romantic motion picture. While it’s often cliche in concept, Her takes a basic premise and pushes against it hard enough to evoke real emotion in a small story.
Although it wasn’t brought up in the press conference, it’s hard not to think of programs like the iPhone’s Siri as being precursors to the companions that can be found in Her. Like most feature about our exponentially advancing computerized world, Her succeeds most when it manages to be as much a film about humanity as it is about technology.