Wednesday, February 26, 2014

HER

Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams,
Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara



"Her" is set in a futuristic LA where technology has completely taken over our lives. We meet Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) a loner (going through a divorce) who works as a letter composer for a company.  Basically he writes love letters for other people and he is quite adept at it. 

When he installs a new operating system (OS) in his computer, it completely takes over every aspect of his life. From sorting his files to arranging dates for him, "Samantha" is the name of the female voice that assists him. Soon enough, Theodore develops a very special bond with Samantha and even calls her his 'girlfriend'. 

This Spike Jonze directed piece thoroughly explores their relationship. It is a complex love story of a lonely man and his endearingly adorable OS.  In this day and age where social media reigns and social isolation is quite rampant, "Her" is a fitting tale of a pure connection, albeit it is between a human and his self aware computer personality.   

But this romantic connection would certainly ring a bell with anyone who has been in an online relationship.  A bond that develops from spending hours on end chatting with each other through an IM (instant messenger) facility.  A budding relationship that mostly unfolds through a monitor and a keyboard. But where one's most intimate feelings and sentiments are shared without the awkwardness of a face to face encounter.  It most certainly feels 'real' between the parties involved even though some skeptic would say otherwise.

I admit I've been in several of these online relationships so I could surely commiserate with Theodore's sentiments.  But having said that, there comes a point when  the normal thing to do is to go beyond the online chats and have a face to face encounter.  There lies the 'obstacle' for Theodore and Samantha.  She is not human and as we find out towards the ending, she has been programmed and uploaded several times in different computers so let's just say her loyalty is questionable.  Plus the glaring fact that she is NOT human.

Most of the background and landscape scenes were shot in Shanghai, China. Apparently in Spike Jonze's brilliant mind that is how Los Angeles would look like in the future. Strange looking skyscrapers, minimalist apartments that rely heavily on computer gadgets, people communicating through an earpiece and a small rectangular device.  It is all very well represented on screen and it plays out well with the alternative subject matter.

But the praises must go entirely to Joaquin Phoenix. He is in almost every scene but he underplays, bringing a gentle irony to his role even at the most climactic moments. He is mostly lost in his thoughts and those of the operating system moulded to fit his psyche.  His awkwardness and boyish giggles make him seem authentically vulnerable yet at the same time a sympathetic somewhat endearing character.

Even though we can’t see what Samantha looks like, her sultry voice is warm, caring and a bit playful at times. One would imagine that someone with such a nice (for lack of a better term) voice would have quite a pleasing personality if she was a real person. But the mere thought that she is voiced by the sensual Scarlett Johansson, you can't help but personify the face behind the voice.

I'd have to say that "Her" is not for everyone. If it were a food item, it would take an acquired taste to really appreciate and savor its uniqueness.  Yet what makes the film so provocative is that the nature of love, companionship and obsession is both universal and timely.  The contours of the relationship between Theodore and "Samantha" can easily be read as one between two normal people with all senses in tact. It’s a love story for our time and for all time.

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