This is a guest review by filmmaking colleague Robby Peters. At only 16 years old, he wrote the short film ‘127’. You can view the trailer here.
I walked into ‘Her’ with the description given to me as a ‘soft-cock’ film, a film that treads lightly on the idea of love but doesn’t fully understand it. A film scared of it’s own content. Regardless, a lot of people recommended it to me. So… I watched it.
Sitting in a desolated carpark, thinking… I gathered my thoughts …
I had just watched something that provoked every imaginable emotion within me. Heartbreak, hope, regret, sorrow, joy, melancholy and pain… it goes on.
So, here I am. Writing this and I’m lost for words. Spike Jonze, even though this is your first film I’ve seen, you are a fucking hero.
‘Her’ takes place in the future, a environment striking similar to now, except super high cotton pants are the ‘in’ thing and people are constantly gawking at their phones. Pretty much the same as today. We follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who writes digitally handwritten letters to lovers for lovers. It’s all based around the idea of feigning authenticity that seems to plague people today. Even so, Theo loves his work because in a way, it helps him relive the romance from a recently sour (and still in progress) divorce. His wife, played by the amazing Rooney Mara, is shown is small fragmented cuts, enough to make us believe what he had was special and worth brooding over. In every plot, something needs to change the course of the story to get things going. So, Theo purchases ‘OS1’, a virtual consciousness that is designed to meet his every need. And it’s here, shit gets interesting.
What’s so evident from the get go in ‘Her’ is the very honest nature of the film. Someone once told me that honesty is all that art is. If this film isn’t honest, I don’t know what it is. Sure, it’s about a guy that falls in love with an A.I. But, if you watch it, I’m sure you’ll understand the contradiction about love. How it can be the best feeling, the complete unguardedness of it, and then it can strip you raw, leaving you naked.
Everything from the production design, the music, and the wardrobe helps evoke a very futureesque mood. One thing I loved, and is constantly overlooked, is that the setting serves the story, the story isn’t about the setting. Every single beautiful detail is thrown into the background where is belongs and it’s given far more power that way. If anything gets in the way of a story as beautiful as it is, it becomes a distraction and this is something ‘Her’ exceeds in greatly, it knows when to stray from the topic and get a giggle out of you.
Speaking of the music, The Arcade Fire delivers a touching, but very minimalist score tinged with some electronica. It works amazingly in hindsight, where the simple melodies lend themselves over to brutally honest, soulful performances.
The film gets into some interesting areas as to where we might be headed as a culture consumed by technology. People in the film are seen constantly roaming around, earpieces in, lost in their own worlds. It’s a setting that is very real today, people so connected in the world around us, but disconnected from our very own families. It raises some thought-provoking questions, no? How far are we from this? Is this us now? In a way, it transcends all the muddy questions of having to justify the settings that come with a Sci-Fi film and strips it down to the bones. “This is what we’re like now, this is what we might be like in a couple decades or even years. Let me tell a story about today set in what I think tomorrow will be like” – I could swear that was Spike’s thought process. Either way – everyone, even the filmmakers, is calling this film a love story. And it is. But, not in the very conventional sense. This film is all about loneliness. How it affects us and how, deep down, we all long to love and to be loved. It’s a very mature story about modern relationships.
Joaquin Phoenix is the most human I’ve seen him since ‘Walk The Line’, a film I hold very close. His performance has some very tough moments to sell but he handles them effortlessly when I bet it was anything but. I don’t wanna kill the one moment that had me in stitches where he’s lying in his bed, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Alright, enough wanking, what was wrong with it? One, the whole idea of a man falling in love with a computer feels like a foreign idea. And it is. This film doesn’t document a love story with an inanimate object, it’s a man escaping his own reality with a virtual consciousness, a operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. To me, that feels like a cheap fix. The topic isn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. But, in no way, did that hinder my experience. When you’re watching this movie, you never question the course of the story, which for me, is something marvellous. It’s a masterfully told and very original story.
It’s a beautiful and at times, heartbreaking exploration into loneliness and how technology can both connect and disconnect us.