Within the domain of film enthusiasts of late has been lots of buzz over Spike Jonze’s beautiful new release Her, and deservedly so. You may recall hearing about Scarlett Johansson living inside a computer, or Joaquin Phoenix wandering waywardly around a sunny, futuristic Los Angeles, apparently schizophrenic along with the rest of the city. The premise, unusual though it may seem, is not so far fetched if we really pause to consider it, being the giant crowd of technological neophytes that we are. The story of Her is one of which we are arguably in great need–startling our sense of normalcy, and questioning our comfort with routine reliance on tools that tend to disrupt communication under a strong guise of aiding it.
Lest you have not heard, Phoenix plays a painfully lonely middle-aged man named Theodore, who is caught in the thick of a thorny divorce replete with raw flashbacks and sticky confrontations. As he regains his footing re: basic life skills, we watch him become involved with his operating system Samantha (Johansson), whose presence nonetheless floods each scene and our hearts. She is patient with Theodore’s struggle though she is not without her own: specifically, the impossible yearning to inhabit a human body.
The heart of the story’s message exists in the tension between the positions of the two–namely, between a search to escape the flawed and vulnerable nature of being human, and the value of inhabiting this very reality revealed to us by Samantha. Despite her predicament constantly reassuring Theodore of his fortune in possessing a body and a human life, his desperate dependence on a non-human entity results in events that point to the true scope and dangers of this choice. Jonze’s screenplay embraces sincerity and resists suppression of ugly details or otherwise troublesome factors of his imagined scenario: a good barometer of success in any film or story.
With its incredibly apt camera work, humanistic concepts, and Phoenix and Johansson’s flawless acting (each of them is a light-inflicting being), the story sometimes feels like a bad trip, introducing doubts and anxieties and easy empathy for Theodore’s struggle, though categorically it’s doubtless a first-world one. It would be interesting (not to mention lucrative) for more filmmakers to experiment with ideas of technology’s impact on us, while not creeping into strict sci-fi territory.
Though we do not yet have subhuman personalities who function as life coaches or lovers, how far off is this idea from dwelling within a video game character for hours on end, or being so consumed with technology and information that we escape the virtues of wisdom or all the possibilities of connection with those around us? This, among many others, is a question that Her poses. I simply don’t have the brain power or stamina to entertain all the rest.
Her is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre.