Set in a future Los Angeles where technology has become more advanced and integrated with daily life, Her (2013) tells the story of Theodore Twombley, a professional letter-writer who has become increasingly socially isolated after splitting up with his ex-wife. One day, after seeing an advertisement for a new form of advanced operating system (OS), Theodore decides to order a device in order to sort through his life and get re-organised. He and his device, who names herself Samantha, become fast friends and choose to experience more of life, and love, together. Spike Jonze’s very recently Academy Award-winning film about technological romance was one of my favourite releases of 2013. Is it worth paying for a ticket to see it in the cinema? Read on to find out!
Joaquin Phoenix is so charming as the awkward and complicated Theodore Twombley. His performance is so sensitive and clever, and might be one of my favourites of his overall work. But the real star of the film is the voice of Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, Theodore’s beloved OS. Although at the beginning she sounds slightly stilted and ‘voice actor in the booth’-ish, as the personality and identity of the OS develops and evolves, her voice takes on such character and emotion that it almost feels like she’s there in person, interacting with her environment. It often feels like we’re seeing the film from an angle similar to her point of view, and she’s hidden out of frame. It is a testament to Johansson’s surprising ability as a voice actor that even though she’s not there physically, it feels like she is 100% present. The development of their relationship seems oddly natural as a result of this.
The story is so unique. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. To the credit of the director/screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, and music composers, all of the elements of this film connect together to create something that feels more like an ambitious work of art, but also tackles issues close to the human heart – relationships, love, loss, fascination with new technological trinkets. The interesting thing is that although Her is set in the near-but-distant future, never before has a film about love felt so current and relevant (except for Blue is the Warmest Colour, of course).
Her can be generally read as being about increasingly detached modern relationships, and the influence that technology has on our communication and relationships with one another. It could be saying that use of social media and the act of carrying your smartphone around with you whereever you go has caused our relationships with fellow humans to become more shallow, and our relationships with technology to become paramount. However, the film also insinuates that human relationships as expressed through technology can be just as emotionally rich and complex as those in ‘real life’. It really depends on your own views on this issue as to which side you’ll stand on. This ambiguity is great because it encourages dialogue about these issues, and that’s always good.
I tipped Her to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, and it did! Spike Jonze absolutely deserved the award because this screenplay is top notch. The use of phone and computer assistants was an excellent way to handle exposition. By hearing Theodore’s emails read aloud, we hear about his social and romantic situation in the least complicated and fabricated way possible. When setting up his new OS on the computer, Theodore has to answer a number of questions about himself, and we learn key information about the way he relates to the world. Not only is the exposition handled so well, the dialogue is almost perfect. Jonze is obviously an amazing writer, but I find that he particularly handles the fine balance between love and sadness very well. He nails the dialogue between a couple that are clearly in love (despite one of them not being physically present), but he also nails the dialogue between a couple that have tangibly drifted apart.
Visually, this film is stunning. If you’re a cinematography, art direction, or production design obsessive like me, you’ll find so much value. The film’s colour palette is strictly warm tones, and the set design and costuming is strange yet beautiful. Because the film is set in a future world that is recognisable, yet also quite foreign, there are hints of advancements in every scene. But this is done very subtly, rather than in a showy way that would detract from the story. With a future that’s so technologically advanced, the standard approach would probably be to give it a blueish or more sterile colour palette to insinuate a clinical or scientific environment. Giving the film a pinkish, warm tone takes it in the opposite direction – it brings the technological advancements down to a human level. I could talk about the visuals of this film for a very long time because the choices in this area were genius. Let me show you some pictures in lieu of that.
I actually noticed the other day that 90% of my “Is it worth paying for a ticket?” reviews are answered in the affirmative. That’s either an indication of how strong the cinema selection is at the moment, or I’ve just been seeing all the Oscar-nominated ones, or I have pretty good taste in terms of what I choose to spend my hard earned dolla dolla bills on. In any case, Her is a genuinely good film, with a unique story, amazing creative elements, and a message that you’ll be debating for days afterwards. It’s not just Oscar hype. Go and see it while you can!
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes!
Watch the trailer here.
Images sourced from Turn The Right Corner.
This review is dedicated to the one and only, the wickedly talented, Adele Dazeem.
Watch this film on Amazon!