There’s something sublimely beautiful and subtly profound about Spike Jonze’s Her. It’s one of those films, which leaves you with a lingering feeling and at the same time, a lot to think about. There could be endless conversations about Her, but the most significant one definitely relates to the denigrating state of our relationships with the advent of technology.
The idea of falling in love with an Artificial Intelligence may sound outright silly, but the way we are getting overly dependent on technology, that idea does not seem slightest bit inconceivable from realms of possibilities in near future. You only have to look around to find people more engrossed and engaged with their technological companions than their actual companions. And with uprise of social networking like Facebook, where the shiny pictures put up are more of a facade of well-being than projections of reality, it is the virtual existence that matters more than the real existence. It’s because of this advent of technology which is threatening to gobble up the truths and realities of our existence that Her becomes such a relevant film that not only reflects on our present but also shows us where we are heading to, in future. Don’t get me wrong. Her is not some heavy, moralistic tale. In fact it’s entertaining, at times even wildly funny. At the same time it’s compelling and complex, but only if you are willing enough to peel the upper layer and look beyond what meets the eye to truly understand the myriad contemplative ideas that director/writer Spike Jonze is throwing at you – Is technology helping us to connect or is it preventing us from connecting ? Do we need a physical body to fall in love with or is it the personal connection that we build through conversation that matters more ? Even after all the technological innovations, do we still crave for love and an intrinsic desire to reach out and connect ? Do we prefer relationship forged with technology over human relationships since the former don’t necessarily carry bag and baggage that usually the latter do. I can go on and on but let’s delve into how does Her manage to evoke so much in just 126 minutes.
In not so distant future, Theodore Twombly [Joaquin Phoenix] makes a comfortable living in Los Angeles, where he works for a company called Beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. His job is to write “hand-written” letters for people who wish to convey love to their near and dear ones – a satirically clever commentary, in itself, on future relationships where humans are using technology to write hand-written letters. Enter into this highly techno-world, a newly invented Operating System, OS-1 which can not only speak like human but also feel and emote like us. Theodore, who’s living a lonely life after estrangement from his wife, decides to give this new invention – soon to become a fad – a try.
Initially slightly circumspect, he soon discovers that there’s plenty to like in this “humanized OS”, Samantha [voiced by Scarlett Johansson]. Apart from being funny, witty, intelligent, knowledgeable, she is also willing to “learn everything about everything”. The most exciting phase in any romantic relationship is the discovery phase, and the relationship between Theodore and Samantha is not very dissimilar from that. Both, Theodore and Samantha first discover each other and then, discover the world together. With every new learning about humans and their world, Samantha becomes more and more human-like. Theodore, on the other hand feels re-invigorated, even re-invents himself in Samantha’s company. The world appears a more thrilling place when he looks it with “her” eyes. Before Theodore falls in love with Samantha, he has his share of doubts, again not unusual from any human relationship, though the nature of doubts in this case is different. Just when you start thinking that most of things about this relationship are “normal”, the limitedness of being a machine or conversely, limitedness of being human comes to the fore. I won’t reveal what happens between them, but I can tell you that whatever happens is not unexpected if you truly understand the progressive nature of technology.
Her couldn’t have been the film it is without the nuanced brilliance of Joaquin Phoenix who just gets under the skin of a man in love with an Operating System. He will make you laugh at one moment and break your heart in another. He’s simply magical. In my books, he gives the best male performance of the year. Scarlett Johansson even without her bodily presence makes her presence felt with an unbelievably good voice performance. Though the real surprise to me was Amy Adams, who’s effortless and refreshing in her role of Theodore’s best friend Amy. And to top it all, she gets to say some of the best lines in the film, including my favorite – “”Falling in love is a crazy thing to do, it is kind of form of socially accepted insanity”
Easily, one of the most imaginative movies ever made, Her has been so masterfully crafted that it deserves to be seen for Jonze’s astounding futuristic vision alone. To achieve this vision of his, all craftsmen, most notably Production Designer, Costume Designers, Cinematographer, Music composer deserve highest praise. Film looks and feels markedly different and every frame in the film is like a beautiful postcard from future. It’s a massive technological feat to achieve what Her does and in the way it does.
Spike Jonze has always been a kind of maverick, and with Her, he has surpassed even his own past efforts including the excellent Being John Malkovich. His ingenuity is apparent in something as simple as the way he shows memories – fleeting, disjointed, gliding and most importantly silent. Isn’t it how memories are?
The true worth of Her will be realized when the idea that it is based upon gets ultimately realized, and whenever that happens in future, I am sure people are going to look back at Her and at Spike Jonze in disbelieved awe on foreseeing the future with such disarming precision. Till we wait for that to happen, I am expecting to revisit this unqualified masterpiece over and over again.