Dir: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara
Cert: 15, 126 minutes
Spike Jonze is an interesting filmmaker, who, even with only four feature films on his resume, has been noted for creating some of the most interesting and unique pictures in cinema. Although he was the director of the fantastic Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, I was never totally convinced that these films were indicative of his talent. I was always under the assumption that the success of those two movies was due to them being written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman, who I perhaps wrongly assumed was the main creative force behind both of those pictures. Though it could be argued that I should have understood the importance of Jonze’s contribution after the release of Where the Wild Things Are, it wasn’t until his newest feature, Her, hit cinemas that I fully realised my mistake of underestimating the genius of Spike Jonze.
While the plot of Her at a basic level is interesting; a man who falls in love with the artificial intelligence that controls his computer, it’s admittedly easy to see why some people might ignore the film based solely on the description of the plot. I’m sure to a lot of people “the film about a man who falls in love with his computer” doesn’t instantly translate in their heads to “must-see cinema” – but it should. Although Her‘s plot and setting is represented through science fiction it’s definitely a human story with its characters being played perfectly by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Johansson is particularly impressive, as much of the film would have fallen flat with anything less than a perfect performance. It’s a testament to how great of an actress Johansson is that even though we never see her character Samantha, the A. I. feels like an actual character and not just a dis-embodied voice. Actually, it’s more than that; Johansson doesn’t just manage to make Samantha feel like a character, but a person. It’s hard enough for an actor to authenticate a character like this when they are allowed to emote through their gestures and facial expressions – Johansson accomplishes all of this using only her voice.
Although Jonze’s superb directing skills have been established by his previous films, his visual eye has never been better than in this feature. The near-future look of Her‘s universe is beautiful and doesn’t veer too far off into fantastical to become unbelievable. The world of Her is a natural extension of the landscape that we are living in today; technology is equally as rampant but has the benefit of being much more advanced. Communication is almost entirely impersonal, with the reliance on gadgets to act for us and structure our lives being the norm. However Jonze neither condemns nor glorifies this way of life; this is just the way things are and even though the way of communicating has become less personal, this doesn’t mean that the feelings and emotions felt by these characters are any less valid. In fact it could be argued that they are even more powerful. And that’s the sweet irony of Her: Jonze establishes one of the most realistic, pure and ultimately humanistic romantic relationships put to film, and he does it in a story built around two characters where one of them isn’t even human.
The dynamic between these two central characters is the crux of the film and it’s completely engaging and fulfilling. Jonze injects so much personality into the picture that it’s hard not to get swept up into the lives of these two people, which allows for every joy and heartbreak they feel to also be felt by the audience in an intense, private way. Arcade Fire’s magnificent score manages to accentuate this personal and whimsical atmosphere, perfectly accompanying the fantastic cinematography and editing. Sound is an important, although downplayed, aspect of Her and although the score is fantastic, a lot of the most touching and striking moments in the picture take place in silence. However Jonze doesn’t boil the film in too much whimsy or romantic grandeur; the film is funny, surprisingly so, and features some genuine belly-laugh moments, especially in the opening 45 minutes. At first some of this comedy seems a bit jarring or out of place, but upon reflection it is evident that it was needed to prevent the film from becoming too melodramatic or indulgent.
Her is a comment on many things – technology, the future, the past, science fiction, but at it’s core Her is a story about two people. It doesn’t get too caught up in it’s concepts like many recent science fiction films have; Jonze makes the great decision to focus on humanity, ironically, through the conduit of technology. Not one narrative or aesthetic decision in Her feels like an affectation; everything is presented in a sincere way that works on an incredibly emotional level. Films can be analysed and taken apart and inspected at their bare parts, but crafting a film is not about box-ticking, it’s not about having a great series of shots, or having a fantastic soundtrack. It’s about having all of these individual parts working together so that they merge into one whole, so that they become their own independent entity, so that they work on a thematic, emotional, and psychological level. And although as it’s broken down parts Her isn’t perfect, it undeniably works.
Her at Tyneside Cinema