Her Review – Sentient Sensuality

Director: Spike Jonze

Writer: Spike Jonze

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara

Release date: December 18th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes



Best part: The tender love story.

Worst part: The obvious symbolism.

Technology – the first world would crumble without it. It drives human endeavours, basic living practices, and overwhelming paranoia. With capitalism and globalisation driven by exponential technological achievements, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have become gods among men. I could proceed with this preachy commentary on technology’s societal and cultural impact for all eternity. In fact, this review is aided by my shiny new Apple Mac. However, occasionally, people need to stop, go outside, and inhale some much-needed fresh air. This theme, prevalent in a significant number of sci-fi flicks over the past 20 years, is grasped at, wrangled, and controlled in the latest sci-fi romantic-drama Her.

Joaquin Phoenix.

Her, throwing the audience into an alluring, soulful, and realistic love story, delivers an infectious and thrilling commentary on life itself. With its strong performances, kinetic direction, and punchy script, this ambitious drama speaks out against our infatuation with love, lust, technology, and anti-social behaviour. Influenced by enrapturing romantic-dramas like Lars and the Real GirlRuby Sparks, and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind, Her is an engaging movie fighting to survive this year’s Oscar race. With 12 Years a Slave and Gravity overshadowing this modest sci-fi effort, this drama deserves infinitely more credit. Lacking similar Oscar contenders’ obvious Oscar tropes and manipulative gut-punches, Her becomes a bizarre, sincere, and creative experiment. Revelatory romantic-dramas, including Her, kick-start by immersing us into their peculiar and recognisable universes. Here, we become alienated outsiders – restricted to witnessing these interesting and confronting events. Opening with a close-up of Theodore Twombly(Joaquin Phoenix)’s face, Her introduces to a relatable and beguiling lead character. As the opening scene expands, we discover he’s an employee at Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com. This particular publishing house relies on uniqueness and emotion. Writing heartening messages for paying customers, Theodore reaches into others’ subconsciousness’s to craft pitch-perfect love/Dear John/other-important-event letters. Forced to help complete strangers achieve happiness, Theodore retreats to his attractive apartment at shifts’ end. In addition, he’s divorcing childhood sweetheart and soulmate Catherine (Rooney Mara). Continually running into his neighbours, married couple Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams), Theodore pushes himself to interact with people outside his small social circle. With phone sex and blind dates turning into disastrous nightmares, he purchases a state-of-the-art operating system to improve his existence. The OS, built to emotionally connect with its users, converses with Theodore. Calling itself “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the OS organises his loose threads, cluttered livelihood, and internal quarrels. Forming a surreal bond with the system, Theodore realises that an exhilarating lifestyle is wholly valuable.

Amy Adams.

Deconstructing Hollywood romantic-drama conventions and mechanics throughout its significant run-time, Her is an important and enlightening sensory assault. Relaying important life lessons, the movie examines each viewer whilst providing guidance, empathy, and inspiration. Fortunately, director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) masterfully constructs several fascinating narrative and thematic structures. Analysing well-known principles, ethics, spiritual guides, and moral quandaries, Jonze continually creates impassioned and cinematically-compelling dramas. Jonze’s artistic endeavours place mirrors in front of his lead characters. In doing so, he necessarily establishes bewildering conflicts and revelations. With his characters facing doppelgängers, parallel universes, and epiphanies, Jonze provides spiritually-and-ethically-motivated concepts for each project. Part of the enthralling 1990/00s American indie-drama auteur movement, Jonze constructs Her with stylish decadence and deft touches. Like with his previous efforts, Her‘s quirks and kinks develop a relevant and thought-provoking examination of humanity, chaos, control, freedom, and regret. Relationships, as Her suggests, become gangrenous if left untreated. For sci-fi aficionados, the parallels to Phillip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov’s seminal works ring alarmingly true. Artificial intelligence, anthropology, human biology, and wisdom are Her‘s greatest endeavours. This romantic-drama, despite injecting lively comedic bursts at opportune moments, wallows in self-pity. With love guiding humanity’s existence, we see several promising and doomed-to-fail relationships here. Theodore’s story becomes a slice-of-life tale about redemption, heartache, and acceptance. Drastically improving upon his life’s work, the curmudgeonly Theodore becomes a shining light in the midst of his friends’ debilitating issues. This romantic-drama embraces such cognitive aspects as meet-cutes, honeymoon phases, jealousy, and argument-fuelled conflicts. Though inevitable, this sci-fi drama places us in Theodore’s shoes. Reflecting upon modern-relationship mechanics, the movie clutches onto its heartening subtext. Ruled by screens, headsets, and holograms, Her‘s universe becomes a recognisable and frightening vision. Theodore, looking beyond the camera, almost begs us to save Earth from this anti-social and misanthropic future. Appropriately drenched in sunlight and neon-lit vistas, Theodore’s emotional and moral transformations deliver tangibly effecting moments.

“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” (Amy (Amy Adams), Her).

Rooney Mara.

As red as roses, Jonze’s style, however, occasionally veers into obviousness and sugar-coated tyranny. With colours, images, and messages flying across each frame, Her almost descends into sappy Oscar-bait territory. Thankfully, despite the first-two acts’ cynical outlook on relationships and humanity, Jonze’s intricate direction crafts a soulful, influential, and identifiable masterpiece. Shattering movie-making conventions and tiresome clichés, Jonze deliberates on the ever-frustrating film production process. Tackling this gargantuan challenge, without screenwriter Charlie Kaufman or director Michel Gondry’s assistance, his eclectic screenwriting and eye-catching direction reach full potential. Treading fine ground throughout, his direction echoes Lost in Translation‘s ghostly charm. The movie, like its main character, looks beyond the horizons for purpose and visual splendour. With Theodore’s apartment drenched in technological advancements and expensive decor, the direction reflects the characters’ dark and hollow psyches. The movie’s cold yet immersive veneer illuminates the narrative’s brutal conflicts. Despite admiring this universe’s Ikea-like clutter and enviable settings, Theodore’s cynical outlook delivers a degraded and distant aura. Jonze’s electrifying composition lends patently distinctive identities to specific scenes. Jumping between flashbacks and relevant story-threads, slight details separate light-hearted moments from dark, reflective sections. In addition, our characters push this courageous and insightful story into overdrive. Theodore, despite the silly exterior traits, is a realistic, charming, and likeable man. As an average Joe, this fearful and gracious figure becomes an unlikely avatar. His interactions and reactions highlight his zany and exhilarating personality. Phoenix delivers yet another mannered and appropriate turn as a broken and reckless individual. Johansson delivers a touching performance by overcoming obvious restrictions. Phoenix and Johansson’s chemistry speaks wonders for this fascinating premise. Adams and Mara showcase intensifying range and charisma in supporting roles. Meanwhile, Kristen Wiig, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, and Brian Cox are magnetic in breath-taking minor roles.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Her tells a familiar story in an intensifying, apprehensible, and complex manner. Unlocking Theodore’s heart with devastating screen-wipes, Jonze delivers an ambitious character study and subtle sci-fi drama simultaneously. Love, hatred, sex, and philosophy, like Theodore, must be tested before being declared useful and sufficient for all mankind. Her takes one step toward a more enlightening future.

Verdict: A heart-warming, empathetic, and detailed sci-fi drama.

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