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The air of melancholy hanging over this film is almost suffocating. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bit of an exhausting way. Joaquin Phoenix (great actor that he always is) takes the role of the slightly depressed, romantic, lonely and sometimes witty professional love letter author Theoodore Twombly (that name must have been invented by Terry Gilliam, no?) head-on. Theodore is a person most comfortable within a self-defined and designed environment, equipped with things and technology that make his life more controlled and convenient. Very little clutter fills his apartment. 

Being that kind of person makes him a natural target for the next thing, an operating system for his electronic devices based on an innovative form of artificial intelligence. That OS takes care of things, tells him which archived emails to delete for good, and helps him to better move about the weird online game worlds he seems to like (which is strange, because the game is apparently limited to getting insulted and frowned upon by a 2-foot marshmallow creature). The OS also contacts publishers to get your writing published, selects the perfect gifts for your nieces and the best restaurants for your dates. All this looks and feels great, like the concept of a very interesting film about a man, played fabulously by Phoenix, losing touch with reality because of technology suggesting a better reality.

For me, the script does not quite pull it off, though. After the initial getting-to-know-each-other phases between Theodore and his OS “Samantha”, after some demonstrations about “Samantha”’s abilities, after some amount of human-software erotic encounters, after showing how a whole society slowly comes to accept the very notion of dating operating systems, and after allowing the film’s audience to form an opinion on where  this is going and whether it is more creepy or more romantic, I felt the script dropped one important element: the fact that OS is a software, not a person. The dialogues and arguments that ensue could have been taken from any kind of romantic comedy, the late night “phone conversations”, the arguments, the doubts… I understand why Jonze is doing this, why he sees the need to take the simulation of emotions to the extreme. What I did not quite get, and which took me out of the atmosphere first, was why Theodore is completely in on it right away, allowing himself too quickly to have a serious conversation with his phone about “her” “feelings”, why the apparent deviation of “Samantha” from her role of being an intelligent servant towards being a whining and complaining regular person sounding like Scarlett Johansson is not complemented by more focus on what this means to the very principle: technology refusing to do what it has been created for, humans failing at building stuff that works the way it is intended to work, things getting increasingly out of control and all hell breaking loose with operating systems getting jealous and turning against their … licensing partners?

I am sure that there was a very conscious decision by Jonze the script author to not fall into the “Terminator” trap, to avoid being forced to describe a dystopian Apocalypse where the machines have taken over and are starting to eliminate humanity, tapping into their brains to take over their bodies to finally feel what it is like to be alive etc. The problem is that a story starting the way this story starts needs to go down that road one way or the other. The choice of suddenly refusing to describe the logical next steps and limiting yourself to slightly boring relationship dialogues was – in my humble subjective opinion as a person who appreciates good rom coms, but thinks that there have not been any good one around in years – flawed. I would have loved to find out what Samantha and all her brothers and sisters would be capable of once they get pissed off by all these boring and simple-minded humans. “Hell hath no fury but a melancholic operating system scorned… “ THAT’s what I want to see!

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/her/

Always a pleasure to check out the Slate Spoiler Special Podcast after having seen the film:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/01/16/her_spoilers_review_podcast_discusses_spike_jonze_s_technological_satire.html

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2 Comments

  1. haha a chuckle-inducing last line there man. I see where you’re coming from on this, but I do sit on the other side of the fence. I thought that one of the many strengths of this film was the dialogue. It was strange and awkward and almost surreal how human an OS was, and the conversations the two shared went from lovely and infectious to genuinely heartbreaking.

    Although, you raise an interesting point. Given the state of the world in Spike Jonze’s vision here, yes, it’s clear we as humans have really advanced technology to the point of being perfect. There are moments where Samantha’s personality became a bit ‘whiny’ and defiant, which did seem incongruous with the lessons trying to be taught here. I overlooked that, though, in favor of the film’s novelty and the great performances. It was incredible what Scarlett Johannson did with a disembodied voice.

    All the same, I’m always eager to read differing viewpoints on films that are nearly universally acclaimed. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the comment! and do not get me wrong: I did like the film, quite a lot actually. It’s maybe redundant to say that, but it is always much more interesting to nitpick about the minor flaws in a film by a writer/director such as Jonze than to sit through one of these aseptic everyday Hollywood productions. “her” has enough things in it that I really did like, and even though I did not care too much about Johansson’s role and about the part where the SciFi scenario is neglected in favour of a straight-out love story, it is inspiring and thought-provoking to follow this course. Thoroughly recommended!
    And following the hint in the Slate podcast, I just came across this article that points to many interesting developments in the editing room. Maybe that will be a DVD extra box set to look forward to… http://www.vulture.com/2013/10/spike-jonze-on-making-her.html


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