Posts Tagged ‘Joaquin Phoenix’

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.

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Never let it be said that Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t give us something to think about. With his latest film The Master, Anderson has tackled a subject arguably more challenging and confounding than his previous offering There Will Be Blood, which looked to the American oil business and its relationship with Christianity for sensational dramatic material.

With The Master Anderson has stepped into the world of quasi-religions. Herein we discover a fictitious group called The Cause, based in no small part on Scientology and the legacy of the group’s founder L. Ron Hubbard. An alluring Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd (based on Hubbard), an outrageously charismatic charlatan who describes himself thus: “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man.”

It is when Dodd meets Freddie Quell (a frightening Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran of World War II suffering from a severe case of Post-traumatic stress disorder that he is fuelled into action and feels compelled to help the man. Dodd takes Quell under his wing and offers him therapy, support and above all seemingly genuine friendship, in exchange for Quell’s expertise in brewing a dangerous substitute for alcohol; a drink largely comprised of paint stripper.

Initially Dodd’s friendship with Quell seems genuinely beneficial and Dodd’s therapeutic techniques have a short term impact on Quell’s sense of catharsis, but Quell’s troubles are deep seated and Dodd’s faux expertise begin to seem doubtful. Despite being a damaged soul, Quell is still a fiery individual by nature and soon conflict arises between Dodd and he. In one extraordinary scene the men are imprisoned together, leading Quell to smash a cellblock toilet in misdirected anger.

In spite of Dodd’s declaration that “man is not an animal” (a theory that seems to be the basis of The Cause) the relationship between Dodd and Quell has a very animalistic quality. Anderson shows this with particular clarity when the men wrestle on the grass outside of Dodd’s house. The portmanteau ‘bromanace’ has never seemed more pertinent.

The expertise with which Paul Thomas Anderson carries off the continually fascinating (and consistently entertaining) relationship between Dodd and Quell is without question. His command of the cinematic language is so competent (with his stunning use of 70mm film) that it makes us wonder to what extent the title of the film can be considered a pun. Yet, in spite of its mastery, a question remains: what exactly does Anderson want to say?

Like There Will Be Blood the meaning of The Master is illusive. Anderson leaves us with numerous disparate thoughts and feelings, but no closure. Like Quell’s battered seaman we are adrift in search of meaning, left only with Frank Loesser’s song (I’d Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat To China, abysslike shots of the ocean and naked women (sculpted out of sand, if all else fails).

Perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson wants to tell us that, instead of seeking a higher meaning and instead of following the theories of others, we can only rely on our basic animalistic urges. Perhaps when Dirk Diggler fixated on the content of his pants back in Anderson’s second film Boogie Nights, the director had said everything he had to say. As for The Master only time and repeat viewings will tell.

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