' ' Cinema Romantico: Her

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


It's a common scenario - thinking a person on the street is talking to you or talking to him or herself, only to realize he or she is actually chatting up someone on the other end of a bluetooth. In Spike Jonze's subtly super-stylized "Her", set in what Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca" might have termed The Not Too Distant Future, we are often made to see pedestrians chatting up technologically advanced earpieces as if they are more microscopic Google Glasses. This is to say that "Her" is clearly intended to resemble our world as much as create a new one and comment on our society as much as portray the one of its own invention.

Though Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is not quite an official hermit, he has significantly withdrawn socially since separating from his wife (Rooney Mara). Their courtship is primarily seen in flashback snippets, moments of joy paired with the rising anger that leads to their combustion. Theodore’s day job is at a wonderfully expository company called BeautifulLetters.com wherein he pens flowing college ruled tomes for men and women too insecure in their own thoughts to say what they mean and/or want. On one hand, it’s lovely to think that in The Not Too Distant Future handwritten letters delivered by post have once again become trendy, but it also neatly suggests a futuristic inability to communicate. Clearly Theodore can communicate on behalf of others, but struggles to communicate himself. This is paralleled by his apartment complex pals, Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher), who appear to be on disparate planets even when standing next to each other.

Quietly desperate to emerge from his high-rise cocoon, Theodore turns to society's new rage, O.S. (Operating Systems), which creates itself on his laptop and is then beamed into his earpiece in the form of a femininely agreeable voice that goes by the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, strictly voiceover). She giggles at his jokes, maintains his email and offers herself as a therapeutic sounding board. In doing so, her melifluous tones re-connect him with life, while in the meantime this abstract intonation comes alive within the confines of her own unseen world.

The delicacy with which Jonze, also working as screenwriter, builds this slightly heightened world, offering numerous shots of humans so close together but never further apart, matches the delicacy with which he sculpts this relationship into one of both heartbreaking and depressing believability. To be sure, Jonze is satirizing the modern world, our slow withdrawal into our smartphones, and parodying the idea that eventually even our boyfriends and girlfriends will be accessed via apps. That the insecure Theodore never seems insecure about revealing his girlfriend to be an operating system, however, and that most no one he to whom he reveals this seems startled, is telling. And that it never comes off as weird as it would seem in theory, is both kinda frightening as well as a testament to Phoenix’s sad-eyed turn.

Adams’ Amy would at first glance appear as Theodore’s requisite real world ballast, but even she finds herself caught up in an O.S. courtship when her marriage crashes against the rocks. No, Mara’s Catherine is ultimately the one most disturbed by her former spouse’s sonic love affair, and she calls him on the carpet for his unwillingness to deal with real emotion in a monologue that might seem on the nose except that for all the ill-communicaton in this film, her directness comes across refreshingly old school. I wonder if in “Her’s” landscape, Mara’s character might be viewed as a luddite, the sort unwilling to square with the technological turns the world has taken. This mostly remains unexplored, but even so “Her” proves itself to be of a more bygone era than its premise might suggest, Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan for Now.

The story of "Her", apart from its production flourishes and plot ornamentations, is rooted very much in the conventional. The high-waisted pants favored by the male characters, after all, can be seen throughout the decades in the history of American fashion, and, in a way, Theodore & Samantha are very much like those pants. She may be a voice, and she may be forced to call upon a body surrogate to re-invigorate their "sexual life", but then that problem - like all of Theodore & Samantha's problems - are the kind couples been having since before rotary phones.

The conclusion could maybe be viewed as a little simple for all the ideas "Her" yearns to propose, but then I'm not entirely certain the conclusion should be viewed so much as a cure as the most tried and true of stopgaps - every now and then all we need is a little human touch.

1 comment:

Candice Frederick said...

there are indeed so many themes that this movie explores so beautifully (disconnect, fear, emotional withdrawal, clinging to something that is not real, etc). I think there is beauty and flaws in what all the characters do, including Mara. but i ultimately think the movie served to explore what is going on in the state of modern relationships today, as told through the eyes of Theodore.