Imagine you were engaged in a conversation with a human being of a bygone era, perhaps the 40’s or 50’s. The conversation inevitably turns to technological advances and they ask you what new wonders have the human race created in the years between. “Well, there’s Twitter, Facebook, iphones, 4Chan, Wikipedia….” Their eyes start to glaze over, bewitched and frightened by these alien words full of possibilities. “But”, you pause, leaning in, ” this all stems from the internet, of course.”
“The internet?”, they whisper. “That’s right, the internet”, you reply.
This is loosely the subject of Spike Jonze’s latest film Her. A woozy, sci-fi romance, it tells the story of Theodore, a lonely 30-something living in a near future LA. Struggling to deal with a recent divorce, he spends his waking hours at work dictating love letters to clients for a corporate company, then retiring home to play computer games or chat to babes online. His world is a Steve Jobs wet dream, an aesthetically perfect, technology driven existence. His office is decorated in giant slabs of gaudy colour, while the LA landscape is a curvaceous, neon-lit utopia.
Theodore is desperately seeking some kind of affection but is unable to find it in the ‘real’ world, despite the encouragement of his coupled up friends Amy and Charles. He finds solace in a new OS (Operating System), a computer generated being (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that is supposed to take charge of his life and takes on an almost human level of understanding. Theodore gradually responds to the warmth and care that ‘Samantha’, his particular OS supplies, and finds himself falling in love. The questions begins to arise for Theodore and the audience; is this love real? Does it matter or not if it isn’t?
Joaquin Phoenix is heartbreaking as the melancholic Theodore. Often swayed to heavier, angst ridden roles, here Phoenix is given space to demonstrate a lighter, more comedic touch. There is an inherent vulnerability to his performances, from the restless vagrant in The Master to the insecure emperor in Gladiator. Wearing a 70’s style moustache and snazzy slacks, it would be easy to dismiss him as stereotypical nerd. Yet there is something very relatable, particularly in today’s screen led world, in his struggle to find meaning and connection.
Her has a very ambient feel to it, much akin to his former partner Sofia Coppola’s films. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s gauzy, soft cinematography perfectly captures the sleepy, hypnagogic vistas of this future world, while Arcade Fire rein in their bombast for a more muted, contemplative electronic score. If there was to be a small critique in this, it is perhaps that Jonze relies on the ambience of the scenes to carry him through rather than the story, yet these are rare occasions.
Although Jonze has stepped away from his regular collaborator Charlie Kaufman, you can still feel a strong influence from the writer in Her. On the surface it is quite a gimmicky idea for a film, yet there is an underlying rawness of emotion that ties in to Kaufman’s work. Her works on two levels, which both intertwine; on the one hand, it is an incisive exploration of the emergence of technology and the potentially troubling effect it has on our lives. On the other hand, Her is an earnest, bittersweet portrait of loneliness and isolation, a man unwilling to let go of the past and trying to find love in all the wrong places.