4.5 stars
In a mostly-familiar utopian America, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix - We Own The Night) writes letters for a living. His are some of the most eloquent and beautifully written responses from those who, in a text and acronym filled future, presumably can't write for themselves. He reveals an artist's temperament despite, or perhaps because of, a debilitating melancholy: Ted is on the broken end of a long term relationship. All that changes when he upgrades the operating system that runs his life – one that checks email, regulates heating, makes coffee, governs his schedule. This benign, adaptive, artificially intelligent system called Samantha soon comes to know everything about him, and when she sounds like Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Walter wants to know a lot more about her as well.

The quirky and always enthralling Spike Jonze (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directs his first screenplay that is a surprisingly 'ordinary' affair. Despite the premise of his romantic comedy – man falls in love with computer – it's as far from the crazed world of former collaborator Charlie Kaufmann as you can get. It's also fairly light on belly laughs, preferring to get into bed with the idea of love, what it means, and what that will mean in the not too distant future. Consider how many relationships are formed, maintained, finished and deleted online, and that future is but an evolutionary heartbeat away.

Of course, while Theodore knows that what he's doing is not exactly wrong, certainly not illegal, it's a funny kind of right. That's until he learns he's not alone. Comforted, he takes Sam into the world via his smartphone and before long they're double-dating with Ted's friend Amy (Amy Adams - American Hustle). Before long, Amy also drops her human boyfriend for an operating system: it's a crazy future but one not much different, opines Jonze, than the one in which we socialise with friends corporeal and digital at the same table.

And there's the sparkling centre of Her, Jonze's capacity to reflect his reflections back upon us in an effortless, poetic fashion. The film is nothing without Phoenix who brings Walter to life with little more than a twitch of his mouth or blink of an eye, and in so doing blurs the line between man and machine: it's often hard to determine who is more human, Theodore or Samantha. Encased in a sleek, functional future which blurs America, Asia and Europe, here is the hopeful counterpoint to the dystopian horrors of Huxley and Orwell which still echo faintly here.

Even when Sam's infidelity comes to threaten Ted and sets him on a new course in the world, Her remains an upbeat story of joy served on a warm salad of sadness. It's an quirky mix, yet an enthralling one. You'd expect nothing less from Spike Jonze.


Previewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney, on 12 December 2013

4 stars

Spike Jonze’s (Adaptation / Where The Wild Things Are) Her is about love and communication. Not communication in the current sense but in the near future, when technology has taken a complete hold and human beings barely relate to one another physically. It’s a scary concept but is it destined to be our future? Next time you are in a public place check it out for yourself, for there are often more people communicating on their mobile phones than with their flesh and blood companions. But, more optimistically, the film is also an examination of love and the process of falling in love, and how communication plays its part in that, too.

We are introduced to Theodore Thrombly (Joaquin Phoenix – The Master / Walk The Line), a writer employed by Hand-written Letters.com, who composes deeply personal letters for people he’s never met. Still heartbroken after his recently failed marriage, Theodore purchases an operating system (OS), an artificial intelligence who calls herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson – Hitchcock / Lost In Translation) and who rapidly becomes part of his life, quickly changing from help-mate to bed-mate. He falls headily in love and the relationship appears to be as ‘real’ as possible, considering the circumstances. In Alan Watts’s (the influential British/American philosopher popularised by the 1970s counter-culture) book The Wisdom Of Insecurity - A Message for an Age of Anxiety, he posed the question “What is reality?” In Her, Spike Jonze makes an oblique reference to this great man, playing with this concept of ‘reality’ when he further develops the idea of virtual relationships and brings both Samantha and Watts together, both computerised constructs that are capable of forming emotional bonds… and who ‘evolve’ in leaps and bounds. This introduces a concept at the core of Jonze’s script – he says “We’re changing and growing all the time, so the question is, how do you allow [your partners] the freedom to be who they are, moment to moment, day to day and year to year? Who are they going to become, and can you still love them?”

Set in Los Angeles (many of the exteriors are actually shot in Shanghai), K. K. Barrett’s production design portrays a futuristic model of stark interiors that one imagines could easily become the norm. Casey Storm’s costumes feature predominately high-waisted trousers on the men, showcasing a complete turn-around to the low-slung look that exists today. Both worked with Jonze on his previous films as, indeed, did editor Eric Zumbrunnen. The scenes are perfectly captured by Hoyte van Hoytema’s (The Fighter / Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) cinematography, aided by the artful use of muted colours and atmospheric lighting.

This is a complex story and after watching the TV series Black Mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jonze had got his idea from one of Charlie Brooker’s highly original stories about our looming cyber future. But it seems Jonze conceived his idea some 10 years ago when he first came across the concept of instant-messaging with an artificial intelligence. Her could have come across as a far-fetched, cynical look into the not too distant future but, with another pitch-perfect performance from Phoenix, backed up by Johansson’s likeable, sexy character and ably supported by a down-played gal-pal role from Amy Adams (American Hustle), this is a winner. Her may not get all the accolades it deserves, although it did garner Best Screenplay at the recent Golden Globes, but it has to be one of the most interesting films currently in release.


Previewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney on 9 January 2014


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Joaquin Phoenix
Scarlett Johansson
Amy Adams
Rooney Mara

Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze



126 minutes

January 16, 2014
Her (2013) on IMDb
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