“Her” Movie Review

     Writer/Director Spike Jonze’s “Her” is quite possibly the most original movie idea since Chris Nolan’s 2010 masterpiece “Inception” and along with that film represent some of the most forward thinking in cinema that I have seen in over 20 years.  “Her”, presented as a story of a lonely man struggling with relationship problems, is a science fiction film first and foremost.  The exceptional production design depicts life in Los Angeles in the not so distant future in a manner you can realistically envision our current society moving towards today.  Life in “Her” is a stark opposite of the Los Angeles Ridley Scott created in his classic film noir “Blade Runner”, which has been the starting point for design when any filmmaker begins creating the tone for a science fiction film.  Spike Jonze instead chose a different route. 

     The characters and environments in “Her” could be how the population lived their day to day earth lives in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  The interiors and work spaces feature a bland, yet sleek choice of color with clean lines contrasted by colorful window panes that take advantage of outside light and send a soothing array of reds and purples into the room.  What you see in these spaces isn’t what you would see today, but one can easily envision a progression toward this type of futuristic living.  The costumes worn by the characters feature higher waistlines and collars worn under collarless shirts.  Jonze and his team have effectively created a completely original look for the film that exhibits a very plausible feel without ever relying on the usual troupes for science fiction design.  “Her” is destined to become one of the most influential films of our time based on it’s look alone.

     In the early scenes we are introduced to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer for a company that provides a futuristic service in which the customer provides a profile of themselves and their family and a writer will compose letters for various events in people’s lives like birthdays, holidays, or even romantic correspondence.  Theodore’s line of work harks to the direction it is believed we are going as a society in today’s world.  It is the fear of many teachers with the advent and overuse of social media, we may begin to stop talking with one another all together.  Hiring a firm to handle all of your most personal written communications says our future in the corporate world will become more overworked, with only the time left over to eat and sleep, never mind actual face to face interaction.

     Theodore’s problems resemble those of many people today, which is to say Jonze doesn’t believe relationships will be any different in the future.  Through flashback scenes, we see the beginnings, as well as the ending, of the relationship and marriage of Theodore and Catherine (Rooney Mara).  The marriage is over now and the initial scenes are dedicated to the somber life Theodore now leads.  Once he leaves work, he must navigate his way home within a sea of people on foot and in public transportation.  Each and every person we see wears an ear piece that connects them to a mobile assistant of which there is a small pocket sized version as well as a home version.  Keyboards and mice are a thing of the past, as users now control everything either by voice or by hand gestures.  Through the ear piece, emails are read verbally by the computer and if the user wants it gone, he simply says “delete”.

     While on the way to work, Theodore sees a video billboard ad for a new computer operating system touted as the first with true artificial intelligence.  He buys the new software and after answering a few questions, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is born.  Simply put, this AI is no different than speaking to and interacting with an actual person.  Samantha is able to sense the emotional pitch in Theodore’s voice and play off of it just as a real person would.  Within a matter of minutes, Theodore has someone he can interact with any time day or night who seems to give him everything he is looking for in a person, and nothing that he is not.  There adventures together center around long walks around Los Angeles which gives us a tour of Jonze’s vision of the city’s future.  Samantha can see what Theodore sees via  the camera eye on his pocket computer, which he thoughtfully has propped up just outside of his shirt pocket by way of a safety pin.  The city now resembles something of a west coast Manhattan with sprawling skyscrapers now occupying the majority of the real estate, a sign of massive growth and overpopulation. Perhaps those in the Midwest and East Coast finally tire of the weather and head West in mass.  When Theodore takes Samantha to the beach, he’s lucky to be able to have one square foot of space to sit down as the beach is packed with people as far as the eye can see.

     The perceived flaw in artificial intelligence centers around the limitless ceiling in how smart they can become, a topic explored to horrifying effect in James Cameron’s “Terminator” films.  Samantha is in complete control of Theodore’s life and now knows him better than anyone.  So much so, it comes to the point where she hides things from him, because she knows how he will react.  As Theodore’s relationship with his “OS” goes further, he begins to find out the practice is becoming widely accepted.  He has few friends, but is happy to find out his former college buddy, Amy (Amy Adams) also has a relationship with an OS and it seems many others in his life are also quite accepting.  This is demonstrated in no better way than when his co-worker, Paul (Chris Pratt), suggests they double date with Paul and his real life girlfriend, essentially meaning there are three people present with each having an ear piece that allows them to communicate with Samantha.  Jonze stages this scene as if it is completely normal with the group enjoying their time together as if there truly is four people present.

     Beyond the ground breaking design elements and the terrific script by Jonze, there are many other important themes within the story that have profound meaning.  At one point Theodore, while conversing with Samantha, ponders his future and concludes that everything he has to look forward to will only be lesser versions of experiences he’s already had.  A somber thought no doubt and one many of us have had post divorce as we get older.  Theodore, dependent on Samantha’s counsel, slowly realizes he must deal with a number of inner conflicts before he can move forward with his life.  In simplest terms, he is stuck in a rut as are the majority of the characters in this film.  “Her” is a smart, funny, and extremely satisfying film on every level. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an outstanding performance playing a role requiring him to react on an emotional level with the voice of a computer. It is Spike Jonze’s finest work to date and will likely have significant meaning to our culture while being used as a reference moving forward into the next decade.  GRADE: A