A soon-to-be-divorced, lonely commitmentphobe with an admirable ‘tache falls in love with an operating system. That’s the easy way to describe Spike Jonze’s film. Yet, despite the film’s principal message being distinguishable from that brief, Jonze foregoes the cliché of dwelling upon a message and leaving characters underdeveloped by instead creating a whole alien world of the future, embracing this world’s complexity before using it as a simple tool to voice a message.
Theodore Twombly, the man living at the centre of this story, is a man confused with his emotions and the actions of people around him, and given the film’s intimacy with Theodore, it’s obvious why Jonze picked Joaquin Phoenix for the role. Theodore’s face is constantly consumed by emotion, whether through a subtle corner-of-the-mouth smile or rolled up forehead. His mannerisms remain awkwardly goofy, and his tendency to overthink situations until he compounds himself into silence renders him a vulnerable character--one that the audience cannot help but reach out to. Phoenix’s acting never dips into parody, but then again, he never does. The tight close-ups flaunt Phoenix’s micro-scale acting to its full potential, and Jonze’s casting of Scarlett Johansson as the voice, Samantha, is perhaps one of the best decisions Jonze’s made with this film. Her playful laughs and whispers give Samantha a tangible presence, transforming Theodore’s love for her into a perfectly rational emotion in the audience’s eyes. It’s only when the other characters in the story pick out the bizarreness of the situation that the audience rechecks their stance on the relationship to remember: “that’s just a computer, right?”
What’s most impressive about Her is the world Jonze creates. It’s the kind of world that one could imagine Steve Jobs designing, where everything is slim, clean-edged and multipurpose. It is a fully globalised world, finding its irony in the fact that despite cultures and businesses being able to connect, it’s the individuals who fail to. It’s evident that this film is a warning from Jonze, as it makes it its duty to play upon people’s fears of becoming physically detached but mentally ‘bridged’ through the medium of technology. But, having been raised in a time when internet friendships and Siri are the norm, I think this world is a more favourable future than the one I believe we’re headed for. Too many critics have overlooked the stability of this world to highlight the importance of Jonze’s ‘warning’, yet Jonze presents a world where our current cultural mosaic has been broken down into a harmonious fusion soup via globalisation. It appears crowded but somehow breathable, a place that a claustrophobic could quite happily inhabit. The streets, although Shanghai-cum-London in appearance, contain no trace of black soot, and fashion has seemingly evolved so that everyone looks like hipsters attending an East-End literary festival—there’s no drab grey in sight, and people just look happy to be there, to be alive and exploring the world with the aid of devices that can tell you everything you could possibly want to know about anything. Underneath the explicit message that every critic drawls on about, I believe that through this world Jonze is showing us that technology brings globalisation and globalisation brings tolerance—a positive message by anyone’s standards. We just have to learn how to continue this growth sustainably.
Having never seen a Spike Jonze film before, this tenderly-crafted, loveable story only begs me to watch all of his films. Even though Her appears so perfectly polished cinematographically, the emotions are raw and unafraid to drag the audience into the drama too. What’s more, Jonze’s intimate directing style involves the audience in the characters’ journeys of self-discovery, dusting every plot turn with a light-hearted humour that charms and enchants. It’s a wonderful film, existing as a delicate story packaged within a beautiful, soft visual.