The interaction between human and machine has fascinated film makers since the birth of cinema in the late nineteenth century. How we use and adapt to an artificial intelligence has informed a wide variety of movies from the Sci-Fi of Forbidden Planet, thrillers such as War Games, cerebral dramas like 2001: A Space Odyssey and of course Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece, Metropolis. Director Spike Jonze has taken inspiration from the films of the past in the construction of his new film, Her.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy. He is in the process of the ending of a long-term relationship with only the divorce papers left as a bond between him and his wife. His job is creating personal letters for people who have difficulty in expressing their feelings to the ones they love. He is excellent at his job and is able to tap into the emotion needed to convey those unexpressed thoughts. His free time is spent in very limited ways. He spends a lot of time in the company of an interactive game which regularly abuses him verbally. Occasionally he spends time with his married neighbours who appears to be having a bit of a problem with their own relationship. By chance Theodore notices an advert for a fresh operating system and on impulse signs up for it. The system, OS 1, promises a tailored interactive experience for the user provides Theodore with his OS which names itself Samantha. After an initial period of awkwardness, Samantha starts to organise Theodore’s life. It is not long before both Theodore and Samantha really start to develop an emotional attachment, followed by deeper more romantic feelings for each other. As this relationship develops Samantha is continuing to work to learn and grow as a ‘person’ in her own right.
Spike Jonze and the production team have created a unique world in which to set the unfolding love story. It leans more towards a near future version of Utopia rather the normal movie view of a future in conflict and despair. People are healthy, well attired, caring and comfortable. The world is clean and bright and there is no evidence of overcrowding or squalor. There even appears to be racial harmony given the comprehensive cross-section of background cast. The downside is the age-old problem of isolation. With advances in technology people are able to interact Online as never before. This means that human interaction is reduced to an absolute minimum. Several scenes emphasize this where a crowd of people are all walking and talking to themselves without a glance to another person.
Being on-screen for the entirety of the proceedings is daunting enough for an actor. It is a special performer that can carry a film under normal circumstances, but Joaquin Phoenix is able to take it one step further. The majority of his screes are spent interacting with nothing physical. He is acting against a voice in his ear piece. He gives an extraordinarily detailed performance as often he is the one thing in the frame. Every movement and expression are judged with care so that the overall performance is believable and doesn’t go over the top.
Scarlett Johansson was drafted in late in the process to assume the role of Samantha. During the filming the actor Samantha Morton delivered the lines for Joaquin to respond to. In post production, Spike Jonze felt that something was not quite as it should be and the decision was made to re-cast the part. Under these circumstances, Johansson gives an exceptional performance. She brings the character to life which is no mean feat for a disembodied voice role. As the film progresses, you get a real sense of her development through her vocal technique which informs the audience of Samantha’s continual growth.
The film looks beautiful. There is a subtle and muted autumnal colour palate in use which blends well with the feel of the love story on show. The sunlight is filtered for the most part to provide a warm and slightly fuzzy look to the scenes. A special note for the musical soundtrack. Arcade Fire provides the score which features simple piano pieces which are used as a development tool for the character of Samantha. In the film, they are used as compositions of her making emphasizing her maturing persona. The more electronic compositions from the band set the mood and compliment the lush visuals.
Overall an absorbing and very human tale of love and loneliness. Highly recommended.
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