Back in October the Guardian ran an article highlighting Japan’s “flight from human intimacy”; the dissolution of traditional relationships, sexual desires and even the inherent need for human contact. The number of single people in Japan has reached an all-time peak with foreboding consequences for the countries already tardy birth rates, but what’s causing this seemingly irrational epidemic?
The emasculated man diverging to metrosexual tendencies, women’s increasing economic participation and career oriented existence, a sobering concoction of alienation and withdrawal from the opposite sex or perhaps most alarming, the superficial alternatives of “online porn, virtual-reality ‘girlfriends’, anime cartoons”. The latterly suggested idea of replacing human intimacy with an inorganic technological counterpart is an intriguing thought, one seldom contemplated in this contemporary ‘Digital Age’ where technology permeates life’s every moment with increasing resilience. Perhaps the idea of being incapable or incompatible with another human being is one too sobering or ludicrous for us to contemplate, nevertheless director Spike Jonze has taken on Japan’s prevalent issues regarding alienation, love, relationships and subconscious human gratification in 21st century of technology with Her.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer of commercially outsourced love letters in a Los Angeles of the near future, following a recent divorce (Rooney Mara plays his ex-wife) he’s become diffident, melancholic and introverted in his humdrum commute through life. As Theodore wanders dazed and alone through life, it’s hard to fathom whether it’s due to the marvels of the near future or his personal crisis; he stumbles upon the latest operating system release, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system; “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness”.
Riddled with loneliness Theodore invests in OS1. His entirely unique digital personality named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is, for all intents and purposes, essentially a human being without a body. After initially meeting his new companion with trepidation and intrigue Theodore warms to her charm and inexhaustible reserve of information, one thing leads to another and before he knows it, the audience certainly does, he’s fallen into mutual love with her. Of course, the contradictions, complications and implications of dating a software program make for a problematic foundation for love.
To think of Her as merely an examination in the future of love and the possibility of a cyber-relationship would be to miss the point, or expose you has a rather detached and naïve person, the issues at hand are to do with our insecurities, desires and worldly purpose are ones that have been around forever and envelop all of us. Rarely do portrayals this acutely tender and portentous transpire in the alternative realities, or fantasy, of cinema.
While the idea of finding companionship beyond conventional means dominates the narrative superficially, it’s the wider satirical microcosm of societal relationships that cleverly elevates the film beyond its widely publicised plot arc. Nods towards these shrewd observations through Theodore’s job as an impersonal, anonymous, letter writer and friend Amy’s (a pallid looking Amy Adams) project on the value of latent desires, or fantasies, in dreams are far from subtle, but they’re illustrative points in keeping with the film’s aesthetically pleasing approach, far more welcoming than a pretentious collage of evasively ambiguous notions.
The wider concepts at hand in Her distract rather than detract from the central relationship between Theodore and Samantha; the early thrills of their unique situation fade over the film’s two hours as the execution doesn’t quite match the ambitious premise cinematically. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, in fact the problems and scenarios they encounter are ominously familiar; awkward and cringe worthy conversations between the characters may seem over sentimental, but it’s an embarrassment for the audience likeable to the discomfiture found to those unfortunately privy to couples’ hopelessly romantic exchanges. That plain sighted awkwardness that afflicts us all in social situations is wonderfully recaptured by Joaquin Phoenix, his troubled, introverted demeanour, which has become a hallmark of his performances, fits perfectly here, perhaps it’s his mild cleft lip that provides an insecure authenticity to his role.
Evading maudlin leanings, Her is as bleak and desolate as it is uplifting and amusing, there’s a fine balance that makes for a heartfelt watch with plenty of food for thought without forcing you to lose faith in humanities’ ability to connect or live a purposeful existence in today’s society.
It’s likely to be overlooked by the innovative plot, but the sheer beauty of film is mesmerising. Jonze and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s vision of the near future is wondrous. More Tokyo than LA, the city landscape is a radiant and gorgeous metropolis perfectly constructed, the only imperfection being the irrationality of human emotion and detachment within its aesthetics. Apart from the future being gloriously neon, it seems that everyone wears their trousers uncomfortably high, an odd caveat considering how far technology has brought us.
Her’s power and charm are marred by a slapdash ending and drawn out, repetitive midterm, Jonze’s flimsy finale is expected but the execution fails to convince with any logic. The task of ending such a novel concept always loomed over the excellent majority of the film, rather than a damaging blow to the overall picture it’s a flimsy let down to otherwise slick piece of cinema.
There have been bigger, bolder and better films out lately, yet it’s the wondrous insight into our expectations and fears for life that Her examines in its richly devised world that’s had the most profound effect on me. Rather than engrossing character driven tale of severe proportions such as 12 Years A Slave, Her provides a deeper insight into human nature that resonates most poignantly, dealing with issues for not only the future but now through an accurate depiction of the worries, fears and apprehensions we all harbour in envisioning our lives. It’s not the best film at the Oscars this year, but it’s the one to keep you pondering long after in a similar vein to Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation.
8.5/10- She’s the One