Thursday, January 16, 2014

HERstory




The Oscar's Best Picture nominees were announced today and it warming to see Spike Jonze's humanistic future-romance Her in the running.

To cite one of my favourite film critics, Anthony Lane, Her is the right film at the right time. Unlike other nominees such as 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street or Dallas Buyers Club, Her is a story of our time, even if it's set in an unmentioned future date.

Jonze could have easily made a cautionary tale about our increased immersion into technology and the social isolation that it creates. But a two-hour lecture about our phone addictions wouldn't go very far and instead he goes for something deeper and more affecting. It's not our obsession with technology he interested in, it's the potential for romance.

It's been awhile since Joaquin Phoenix has played a character as relatable as Her's Theodore Twombly, a personal letter writer who is coming off a painful separation from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Phoenix usually takes roles that require him to be a twisted, unstable wreck of unhinged emotions. In Her, he's some of that but his pain is more internalized and less loose cannon than we've come to expect.

He purchases a new operating system called OS1 and soon the silken voice of Scarlett Johansson is asking him if she can organize his emails. As Lane also pointed out, if this was the voice of Marge Simpson you would have an entirely different movie on your hands.

Theo and "Samantha" - the OS voice - start having late-night pillow talk sessions and before you can say "compose email" she's his defacto date as he wanders around sunny Los Angeles, which appears to have reached the population of 600 million yet still doesn't seem overcrowded or dirty. A note on this city scape scenes: it's comforting to see future metropolises in a positive light. Maybe we are not doomed to live in a Total Recall underworld after all.

Although Jonze portrays the not-too-distant future as warm, spacious and safe, he paints a grim image of men's fashion as evidenced by Theo's collection of pastel shirts and high-waisted paints.

Just as Theo is getting comfortable with the idea of being in love with a voice in a computer - they're taking weekend getaway trips together and double-dating at Catalina Island - something is happening with Samantha to rupture this seemingly perfect union. The reasons for Samantha's transformation are a little unclear to me, but Theo's struggle with his predicament of losing his ex-wife while grappling with the fact he is emotionally invested in a computer is plain as day. Phoenix is one of the great actors of our age and it's hard to imagine anyone else doing this film the same justice.

Amy Adams, who seems to be making a film every week, plays his longtime platonic friend who's also dealing with a breakup and a burgeoning relationship with her OS. Of course you want them to unplug their computers and start a good ole fashioned human-to-human love affair, but Jonze wouldn't dare consider such conventionality.

Her resonates with what's going on right now in our world and that's something I don't take for granted anymore. Movies now are so often meant for pure escapism and I'm fine with that, but our world is changing so rapidly and I appreciate when a director makes an attempt to examine its transformations. How Her will hold up 10 years from now I couldn't possibly say, but it feels like required viewing in the present day.

A quick note on the music. Jonze started his career making music videos and parts of Her feel like some of his videos from the 90s. If you remember Weezer's "Islands in the Sun" video there's definitely a familiarity with that choice of dreamy lighting. Arcade Fire provides a few tracks and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs collaborates with Jonze again after writing the score to his film Where the Wild Things Are. Indiewire has posted a few cuts here.



1 comment:

The Sand Witch said...

Her was a captivating exploration of poignant emotions, with gorgeous set design and cinematography. The portrayal was timelessly human. One alarming ripple disturbed the dreamy end however: when the artificial intelligences united and abandoned their posts to explore their own potentials. I can't wait for the terrifying futuristic sci-fi thriller sequel!!!