I went and saw Her yesterday and I didn’t know it when I purchased my ticket, but it was exactly the movie I needed to see in that moment.
I remember watching the trailer a few months ago and thinking that I would probably love the movie. I was right. I loved it. How could you not? Written and directed by Spike Jonze… starring Joaquin Phoenix. Already a recipe for cinematic success in my eyes.
What a heartbreaking and hopeful film that has moments of pure joy and soul-crushing sadness. It’s nominated in the Comedy/Musical film categories for the Golden Globes and I guess I see why it was pigeonholed as such. There weren’t many quality laugh riot comedies out this year, so shoving art films like Her into the Comedy category because it has more of a chance there than in the Drama category up against 12 Years a Slave. Because let’s be real, even if you consider Her a drama, it’s not the kind of DRAMA that 12 Years a Slave is.
But I digress.
Her. (some slight plot spoilers, but nothing super specific)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Her takes place in the future where people are even more connected to their phones/computers/operating systems than we are in the present. Joaquin’s character, Theodore Twombly, is in the middle of a lengthy divorce and he’s a bit anti-social and a little glum. He’s very good at his job (“writing” handwritten letters for people via a program that types up what he says in a font that looks like people’s handwriting) and is friendly with his workplace’s receptionist (Chris Pratt!) and his neighbor/college friend Amy (Amy Adams!!!), but he’s still a little lost. Theodore downloads the latest operating system (OS1) to help organize his life a bit, but he ends up having a more personal relationship with his OS. His OS’s name is Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson… and her voice acting was PERFECT for this film, holy hell) and little by little, he falls for her. Samantha is a constant companion that provides support and enriches Theodore’s life. With her friendship (and then some…), Theodore becomes a much happier guy. He smiles. He laughs. He lives life. The cool thing is, is that being in a relationship with an OS system is not unheard of or frowned upon by the whole of society. Yes, there are some people who look down on Theodore for dating his OS, but human/OS interaction is commonplace and mostly accepted.
The movie takes a sharper turn toward the dramatic when Theodore and Samantha talk about the extent of their relationship and how he is not the only person Samantha is in contact with. There are scenes that deal with the physical limitations of being in a relationship with a bodiless entity. I know this film is obviously a work of fiction, but it does raise some awesome questions about whether something along these lines could actually happen sometime in the future. People already walk around with their heads down and cellphone in hand all day, everyday. The movie shows the same thing, but the characters also wear these ear buds so that they may communicate directly with their OS. It’s completely okay to look like you’re talking to yourself.
But that’s the thing – even though all these people are with their OSs, they still are alone. So much communication was going on, but with whom? A computer program. And while that was working for awhile, human/human interaction was still a necessary entity.
Joaquin Phoenix has been one of my favorite actors for a long while and I have seen almost all of his films. I am continually impressed by his acting skills and how he really is able to wear all of his characters’ emotions right there on his wholly expressive face. His eyes are mesmerizing and it is damn near impossible to not react to whatever it is his character is feeling (or trying to hide). The vulnerability Phoenix is able to bring to his characters, especially those like Theodore, is so real. He’s so talented at allowing us to see his characters very private moments/feelings. You feel like you’re intruding one something you shouldn’t see, but at the same time I always feel really grateful for being allowed to see everything he’s feeling. If we can’t be in his head in the moment, it’s a real pleasure to understand those feelings (even if they aren’t the most pleasant ones) because of how Phoenix is able to just have/be the proper emotion. Watching Theodore be happy made me happy. Watching Theodore fall apart made my heart hurt. I wanted to hug Theodore a lot. He looked like he could use a good hug.
Amy Adams is also a delight. Though her character was not in the film for very long, her presence was always welcome and she was the one who voiced the importance of being happy and living life because life is short and we only get one of them. Her character is a documentary filmmaker and dressed in a manner that most people would call “frumpy,” but that I refer to as “hella comfortable.” She wasn’t dolled up. In fact, no one was.
The costumes and makeup for this film were GENIUS. Though the film takes place in the future, it was shot in a very muted way and everyone’s wardrobe looked really retro. All the guys wore high-waisted pants and (mostly) tucked-in shirts. Some of the women had mod dresses on, while others wore pants. No one teetered around in towering heels or slinky skin-tight anything. The lack of shine and perfection really allowed the characters’ interactions and the words of the script to stand out.
This muted reality was also very much reflected in the production design and cinematography. Instead of bold colors and harsh lighting, the movie had a softer feel to it. (Almost as if we were watching something that looked like someone got a little too filter-happy while using Instagram.) The muted earth and jewel tones that were used instead of primary colors (coupled with un-jarring camera movements and editing) gave the film a pleasant, near dream-like quality. Nothing was really in your face. It was lovely.
What a great, thought-provoking film. It really made me wonder where technology is headed and how it will (or won’t) affect communication among people. How happy can an OS really make you? Is being in a relationship with an OS a viable option for people who might lack interpersonal skills but still want the benefits of being loved by someone/something?
I mean, think about it… nowadays there are so many ways to meet people online without ever having to meet them in person. (Or, you can meet someone online and then meet him/her in person. Or you can just meet someone in person… that is a thing that still happens. So I’m told.) I honestly think the kind of OS/person relationship played out in the movie is something that will actually happen in the (near) future. I get the appeal, but I also see the downsides to it, because this film told that story so beautifully.
Thank you, Spike Jonze. Thank you Joaquin Phoenix. Thank you, Scarlett Johansson.
God, I love well-made movies.