In today’s world where majority of people’s daily lives are spent interacting with their phones & computers, a world where people are virtually in touch with everyone through internet but can’t even recall the names of their neighbours, a world where technology has seeped into the modern human relationships so much that it is making its presence felt unlike ever before through online dating, cyber chat or phone sex, and a world where people living in distant places are still able to make their long-distance relationships work including those who’ve never met each other before, a cinema like this couldn’t have arrived at a better moment. Illustrating a not so distant future towards which our society is already headed, Her is the most accurate reflection of 21st century relationships and explores our disconnection from face-to-face conversations, the isolated lifestyle we are slowly getting accustomed to, as well as our desperate need for love & companionship in order to overcome the emptiness that abounds our lives.
Set in the futuristic Los Angeles, Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly; a lonely writer working at a company which offers to write letters on behalf of people who have trouble expressing themselves. Living a mundane life ever since his childhood sweetheart left him, he spends most of his time alone playing video games or occasionally hanging out but one day, after seeing an ad about the latest artificial intelligent operating system that’s designed to meet all its user’s needs, he decides to give it a try. Fascinated by the voice & personality of this OS which not only does what he says but also understands his feelings & is capable of human emotions, Theodore finds himself totally at ease with Samantha, the voice behind his intuitive OS, and eventually ends up falling in love with her. But after the initial excitement, things soon start going downhill as Theodore starts juggling with both joy & doubt over having a relationship with a computer while the physical limitations between them due to Samantha’s lack of a body plus her rapidly evolving psyche brings complications of its own into their relationship.
With only 4 feature films in his almost 15 years long career, Spike Jonze can still be regarded as one of the most promising & unconventional filmmakers working in the industry today for he has this innate cinematic vision that seamlessly blends the elements of fantasy with real world surroundings in a very believable manner. And with Her, the sci-fi elements introduced in the story seem so within the grasp of current world technology that it’s downright unnerving in the realization of how close we are to the disconnected reality depicted here. His direction also provides a post-modern feel to the film by taking inspirations from the technologies that’s available today, betting on where its next evolutionary leap could be & exploring that breakthrough with grounded realism. Also making his solo screenwriting debut with this film, Jonze has written this unusual love story in such a sweet & captivating manner that not only it prevails as a stunning work of originality & creativity but also as the finest screenplay of 2013 by a long shot. As for the movie, there is no doubt in accepting Her as Spike Jonze’s best feature of his short but impressive career so far.
Coming to the technical aspects, the production design has done a fabulous job in putting up on the screen an advanced vision of a world that feels strangely familiar & barely has any science-fiction touch to it. One of the most striking aspects is its aesthetically pleasing cinematography that keeps radiating a sense of warmth from start to finish. Capturing the skylines of Shanghai as a stand-in for the futuristic Los Angeles, the camera also makes ingenious use of colour palettes & lighting to add more vividness to the story that ultimately contrasts with the colourless world its characters are living in. Editing gives this story a much admirable relaxed pace & dares to take its own time rather than hurrying up with the narration. Plus, throughout the film’s 126 minutes of runtime, it keeps the focus on Theodore & his adventures rather than exploring the visual wonders of a future world. And last but not the least, the original score by Arcade Fire is very intimate, heartwarming & soul-stirring in a way that it balances & compliments this story beautifully, and ends up escalating a rich cinematic experience into a profoundly moving one. Definitely one of the best soundtracks of the year, if not the best, and certainly one of my favourites.
As far as acting is concerned, Her scores excellently in that department as well and features an incredibly talented cast in Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde & Scarlett Johansson. Having made a career out of defying expectations & rising from the ashes towards greater eminence, Joaquin Phoenix has truly lived up to his last name & is one of the very few actors working in the industry today who is capable of becoming the very embodiment of the character he chooses to play. Fresh from the jaw-dropping performance he delivered a year ago in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix follows it up with another shining work here as Theodore Twombly; a sad, lonely & melancholic person who has lost touch with his once social self and is looking for companionship without the burden of meeting new people. And with this sweet, sincere & heartfelt rendition of Theodore, Phoenix has given yet another performance that he can be proud of. Amy Adams has never been as adorable as she is in this film & plays Theodore’s friend Amy, with effortless naturalness. Rooney Mara does well too as Theodore’s ex-wife Catherine &, except for one scene, is present only in brief flashbacks in the entire film. Olivia Wilde is present on the screen for just one sequence playing Theodore’s blind date & was no slouch either.
Although every actor has contributed something unique here, the performance I loved most is the one which didn’t even have a physical presence in the entire film. Yes, I’m talking about Samantha, who is perfectly voiced by the sultry Scarlett Johansson. Exemplifying the perfect version of a girlfriend who is funny, curious, supportive, empathetic & always there for Theodore, Samantha also has her own persona which keeps evolving with every passing moment as we see her frustration of not having a body, trying to overcome the physical barriers of their relationship & eventually learning to accept herself the way she is. Honestly, the best part about this romance is neither Theodore nor Samantha but their chemistry together that’s spot on from the very first moment they interact & becomes all the more interesting as the film progresses. Johansson is the one who gives Samantha her own soul & identity here and no matter how weird it may sound but this is arguably her career-best performance. Voice acting is no easy job as one has to be present right in the moment with well-balanced emotions to make it work & Johansson made it look very easy in a manner that for the major part of the film, we tend to forget that she is only a voice in a computer & accept her as just another human being. Her chemistry with Phoenix is the core ingredient that makes this film work & accomplish what it set out to achieve.
Just like it is the case with every motion picture, Her will have its share of critics too. I don’t deny that its plot summary alone on paper gives an impression of something that’s strangely wicked but still, all those doubts & hesitations are off the ground once we’re 30 minutes into the film as director Spike Jonze has refined the whole story with meticulous attention to the smallest of details & provides a genuine human touch to make the relationship between a man & his computer seem more believable. There will be few who’ll put up a valid reason for not liking this film & I respect that, but there are also going to be some who’ll reject it outright or make fun of it, which unfortunately is due to the limited perspective that their conventional minds can perceive. This unusual romance isn’t really asking you to fall in love with your gadgets but is asking a simple question, “Is it possible to fall in love with someone you’ve never met in person?” or “Do the so many people we see today in online relationships even sharing real emotions with their partners?”. It’s easy to dismiss them as incapable of handling real emotions but physical presence is just an entity & not an absolute necessity to fall in love, which itself is the affection between two minds, not two bodies.
To be honest, romance is one of my least favoured genres. Most of the romantic films that I’ve seen over the past few years have been bland, predictable & painfully boring. But every once in a while, there always arrived a love story which made me see this genre from a whole new paradigm & ended up instilling a faith that it’s still capable of surprising & has got a lot to say. 2013 alone saw the release of at least 3 films about love that offered something new to its viewers & this cinema is certainly one of them. On an overall scale, Her is one of the most original, inventive & beautiful love stories to have come out in a long time and presents the most exciting & strange romance-related concept since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As a story of love, the frustration due to the physical limitations exhibited in Theodore’s relationship with Samantha as well as how they both still manage to make their love work isn’t very far from reality for those who don’t get to spend much time with their loved ones or those who are or have been in long-distance relationships & it’s these people with whom this film will strike a more personal chord. And as a social commentary, it examines our increasing obsession with technology plus how these gadgets which were made in order to bring people more in touch with each other are having an entirely opposite effect on the society & where this trend could lead us in the near future. Cleverly envisioned, deftly written, masterly directed, gorgeously photographed, smartly edited, splendidly scored & outstandingly performed, Spike Jonze’s Her is arguably the best film of the year and certainly the most timely romance of a generation. Don’t miss it.