Saturday, 15 February 2014

Her - review

In a world where we are spending an ever-increasing amount of our lives online and communicating to other through our computers and smartphones, Her is probably the most important and timely romantic film of the last decade.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is going through the final stages of a divorce, living a quiet lonely existence trying to "prioritise between video games and Internet porn" and works for a company called, writing letters for people who have trouble communicating (but clearly pay well for the service given Theodore's apartment).

It reminded me of a line in (500) Days Of Summer where Tom bemoans his job at a greeting card company, saying "why do people buy these things? It's not because they wanna say how they feel, people buy cards because they can't say how they feel or are afraid to. We provide the service that lets them off the hook."

Although set in the near future where East and West cultures are beginning to merge (also touched upon in Sci-Fi films such as Looper and Serenity), Minority Report-style advertising is everywhere and Simon Cowell-esque high waisted trousers are all the rage, is it any wonder things have gotten so bad that people are unable to express their true feelings face to face and need an online service to help them write letters (instead of just that annoying paper clip that pops up when you type in an address) when much of our social interaction is taking place in a digital domain.

A number of websites such as, EHarmony, Tinder, etc tell us that we can find love or even just sex "on the line" and one of the questions posed by the film is do we even need the physical bond any more?

Having a computer create the perfect woman is not a new idea, after all Gary and Wyatt managed to create Kelly Le Brock in Weird Science, but Samantha is different. She is not a person or even a robot or android, just a voice of an artificially intelligent operating system... even if she did go through a software update in post production with Samantha Morton's vocal chords being replaced by the sultry, dulcet tones of Scarlett Johansson.

Initially designed to help Theodore organise his work, schedule, emails, etc as Samantha's AI evolves so does her relationship with him, moving from tool to friend to lover and finally girlfriend.

The film does touch upon the humour and ridiculousness of the scenario yet there is a sincerity and genuine intimacy to their relationship. Just compare the cybersex scenes with Samantha and the earlier tryst with "SexyKitten".

She encourages him to become more outgoing, helps to advance his career, etc and through their interactions and conversations, she develops more and more as a system towards an ever-increasing desire for humanity.

When Theodore expresses doubts over the validity of their relationship to the one real woman he is comfortable around, unhappily-married friend Amy (Amy Adams), she asks him "Is it not a real relationship?".

After all, the definition of relationship is "the way in which two or more people are connected, or the state of being connected.", and Theodore and Samantha are connected. Quite literally, through an earpiece.

Theodore's ex-wife tells him "you always wanted a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real. I'm glad that you've found someone". Plus seeing him on an actual date with a person (Olivia Wilde), it is clear that this real-life social interaction is uncomfortable and even alien to him following the breakdown of his marriage.

In the first wave of euphoria, Samantha seems like the perfect girlfriend. She is interested in him, supportive, encouraging, laughs at his jokes, etc. Plus you can switch her off if you are tired or don't want to talk.

However as she grows and evolves, the honeymoon period ends and her behaviour becomes increasingly similar to that of a real person. There is distance, jealousy and phone calls late at night because "we need to talk".

As things take a darker and unpredictable turn, an argument can be made that Samantha is a crueller artificial intelligence than even HAL 9000.

Even as cracks emerge the audience believes in their relationship and will find themselves willing it to work due to the excellent performances.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers his warmest and most accessible performance to date, giving Theodore an endearing sweetness and shyness that gradually opens up as Samantha breaks down the barriers to his heart.

Even though she is not on screen, Scarlett Johansson not only captures Theodore's affections but also the audiences. Many people will leave the cinema wishing their phone was voiced by her. She is smart, funny, seductive, confident and hypnotic.

The whole affair is beautifully shot with a warm glow and a perfect soundtrack by Arcade Fire that generates a feeling that love can conquer all.

Haddaway kept asking "What is love?" but there is no real definitive answer. No one can tell you what love is, you either know it and feel it or you don't. Theodore felt it. Just because the object of his affections is not real doesn't make it any less true.

The same goes for the film. Some will fall in love with it, others won't but those that do will find a film that starts life as science fiction but very soon could become science fact and a must-see romance for anyone looking for a Siri-ous relationship.

5 stars

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