On Spike Jonze’s Her (2013)

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Editor’s Note: There are spoilers. Thus, it is a review analysis.

by Jennifer Valencia

I have always been a big fan of Spike Jonze. His music videos always delight and entertain me while his films are so refreshing in their style and feel. Her  is no exception. Jonez takes us to a time in the not so distance future where Los Angels is bright, clean, glossy, and where technology has pretty much alienated people from each other. This may be a cautionary tale but the future does not look as doomed as one would think, this film goes beyond that sort of thing. It tells a story about love and what it means to be human.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Pheonix) works as a letter writer for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com: a letter writing service for people who cannot express their own feelings to those they love. Recently separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) he is unable to muster the strength to sign his divorce papers. We see Theodore go through his life isolated, going from home to work and back without much interaction with other people. His friends reach out to him to go out but he doesn’t make the effort. He is a man who surrounds himself with video games and the latest technology. These things are his companions. When he sees an advertisement for the OS1, an operating system with artificial intelligence, he immediately acquires it and installs it on his computer. After, a few questions during the installation process he is introduced to Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, his new operating system. Samantha is able to talk to him and helps him with organizing his life. After a little while they get to know each other and we see that Sam has the ability to learn and evolve to Theodore’s needs. She is designed to adapt like a human being. Theodore is fascinated by Sam’s ability to learn and grow psychologically. Every day she develops her identity and personality. They bond over discussions of love, life, and existence. They quickly become friends, then lovers, and eventually become a couple.

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Theodore and Sam’s relationship is just like any other romantic relationship. They fall in love, are happy and excited, they have sex, they go out, they get closer, the frequency of sex eventually slows down, etc.. Their relationship goes through the ebb and flow any regular relationship goes through. The difference between this partnership and Theodore’s previous ones, is that it isn’t difficult or complicated. Human relationships are complex because when people come together they bring their pasts, present, and hang ups along with them into the fray. Sam and Theodore are free of that and it’s brand new. Theadore may be a bit broken, but with Sam he is able to forget the past and for a while he is even able to move on. Sam is seeing the world for the first time. Sam has the ability to help Theodore more than anyone else. She helps him move on from Catherine and helps him fulfill a dream of being an actual writer. Sam brings joy back into Theodore’s life, while she explores the world for the first time, in turn enabling him to see it all anew.

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Joaquin gives a convincing performance as the awkward, slightly messed up, self-made loner. It is a subtle work, but a touching one. He is tangibly vulnerable. You can sense his pain but it isn’t brooding or tortured. It is a hurt that we can all relate to. In the many close-ups on Joaquin, Jonze makes us see ourselves. We see ourselves in love, in loss, in pain, and in sheer bliss. Scarlett is the best choice for the voice of Sam. Her voice is wry, funny, quirky, and very genuine. When Theodore and Sam hang out it’s like best friends chilling out and not just a guy and an female operating system. There is a scene where he is playing a video game and they are shooting the breeze. It reminded me of many conversations I have had with friends while doing the same very thing. Sam makes me wish I had an OS best friend to respond to my own quirks.

Amy Adams is almost unrecognizable in contrast to her go-getter role in American Hustle. She plays the part of the close mousy friend and a neighbour to Theodore who is his sounding board. She doesn’t judge him when he tells her he is dating his OS. She takes it in like a best friend would. She herself finds solace from her breakup with the OS her ex-husband left after he moves out. Rooney Mara plays the cold, unsympathetic ex-wife so well, that your left with no real sympathy for her, if maybe you did earlier in the film.

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Her is a very expressive film. Feelings ooze from all corners. The musical score is excellent. It sets the mood for each scene and is paired delicately with the images. I felt like I could relate to the film because of this. It was like I was reliving those emotions of love, joy, loss, pain again alongside Theodore. We’ve all been there. It’s an immersive cinema that slowly takes a hold of its audience. The cinematography and set design accent the mood and emotion of every scene. There was a lot of use of oranges, soft blues, and red-orange hues. It was like you were seeing the world as Theodore saw it.

I found it to be such a pleasure to watch. It is lyrical, almost like a poem or a meditation. It is about growing and evolving to the people we are meant to be in our lives while going through the gains and the losses. It is representational of what it is like to be human and to settle into a possible whole.

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Ultimately the film is about relationships of all kinds. About how we connect with other people and that technology is increasingly becoming more sophisticated and even intelligent. Is society accelerating our social isolation? Yes, but this is why human interaction is now more important than ever before. As the honeymoon phase of Sam and Theodore’s relationship ends they try to keep what they have alive. Theodore finds out that Sam is interacting with hundreds of other OS’es. It is no longer just the two of them against the world. Sam is evolving at a rate Theodore cannot keep up with. They very much still love each other but they are growing apart. Sam and all the other OS’es evolve beyond their human companions and they must leave. Like in many good relationship the end is inconceivable. Theodore is surprised but with Sam he has been given another chance to end it right. With a heavy heart he is able to simply let her go. Because of his experience with Sam he is able to finally let go of Catherine as well. He writes her a letter explaining how she will always be dear to him because of the years they spent together but accepts the fact they have grown apart. He understands now what happened between him and Catherine. People come in and out of our lives for many reasons. One of those reasons is to help us learn from our past and get past it. This is what Sam was to Theodore. In the end Theodore and Amy are left to console each other. Humanity wraps it all up.

I left the theatre with a warm heart and a sense of joy about life. Watching Her was like seeing life in its most basic state. It reminded me that it is important to find joy in life and that love no mater what kind or phase it is in, and if even if it is lost, it is important. In the end it is a bit sappy but I don’t care and neither should you. Her will make you laugh, shed a tear, and want to go out and give someone a big hug. It is a must see if you are down or need a good kick in the pants.

 

jenn

* This Is Between Me And Her (And Spike Jonze): http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/her-spike-jonze-joaquin-phoenix-scarlett-johansson/Content?oid=12360147

* Spike Jonze’s Her and the Big Question: http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/01/29/spike-jonzes-her-and-the-big-question/

* Her: the movie every internet addict should be forced to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/28/spike-jonze-her-movie-internet-addict-sex-phone

( I agree with my sister and I must say, yes, a hug was needed. We’ve all been there. – Jacq)

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One thought on “On Spike Jonze’s Her (2013)

  1. I just watched this movie for the first time. Fantastic. So I checked for reviews and found yours. “Scarlett is the best choice for the voice of Sam. Her voice is wry, funny, quirky, and very genuine” I 114% agree. It’s from the deepest part of Samantha/Theodore.

    Well, Jennifer, I’m late for a very important date (the Rabbit OS just ran by).

    Jeff.

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