Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Her (Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 10.02.2014

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! - Oscar nominations 2014

Her (UK Rating: 15)

Friday is Valentine's Day, so cue the hearts, flowers, chocolates and bubbly - but what about the movie? The classic Sleepless in Seattle gets a one-day release especially for the 14th but for something more contemporary, nay futuristic, there's Spike Jonze's high-tech spin on romance, Her.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in the near future, earning a living by writing letters to loved ones from people who have neither the time nor inclination to do it themselves. He signs up to a new, personalised computer operating system and, having chosen the female option, is introduced to 'Samantha.' She quickly organises his life, but their relationship soon becomes something more, with Theodore rapidly falling in love with the woman who is always just out of reach. He's not the only one, either…

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Her (Movie Review)

Jonze's vision of the future is a cold, impersonal one - everybody seems to want human contact, but there's very little of it, with relationships conducted at arms' length, if not more. Twombly provides a service for people who don't - or won't - write letters; the people around him in the city rarely interact with each other and when people do embark on something more intimate, it's always doomed to failure. He's recovering from the break-up of his marriage, his first proper date turns into a disaster, and his one real friend, Amy (Amy Adams), breaks up with her partner. Worse still, Twombly is completely oblivious of her feelings for him.

Therefore, a personalised Operating System fills the gap seamlessly. Samantha is Twombly's ideal woman: she understands him perfectly, makes him laugh, anticipates his needs and is unquestioning in her loyalty. After all, when she has the sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson, what's not to like? Their relationship follows a familiar pattern: the initial buzz of falling in love, the descent into deep and meaningful conversations when the thrill starts to fade, and, ultimately, the realisation that the other person isn't perfect after all. In Twombly's case, the final stage is the disillusionment that comes with a harsh reminder that Samantha is a computer, not a person. He's become so wrapped up in their relationship, to the exclusion of anything or anybody else, that he's forgotten the obvious, so the realisation that she's the personal OS to 8,000 people and in a relationship with 500 different men is shattering.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Her (Movie Review)

A relationship with what is basically a computer, be it friends or something more, isn't unusual in this vision of the world. As Twombly walks through the city, wearing his ear-piece and talking to Samantha, most of the thirty-somethings walking past him are doing much the same. For all the viewer knows, some of them might also be talking to Samantha as well! His friend, Amy, has become friends with her OS: it's a female one and, as both of them are straight, the likelihood of complications is minimal, and yet not everybody accepts it as the norm. Twombly's ex-wife (played by Rooney Mara) is horrified at his new relationship and sees it as confirmation that she was right to leave him. She probably has a point!

Jonze's screenplay for Her has earned a number of award nominations and is on something of a winning streak. It's a neat and engaging idea, all the more so for being quite feasible (who could forget the Japanese guy that married his videogame girlfriend?), and asks a lot of questions about how people conduct relationships, both on a personal level and online. It also gives the well-chosen cast plenty to work with, especially Scarlett Johansson who acts purely with her voice.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Her (Movie Review)

When the end comes, it's abrupt to the point of curt. The OS is shut down, not just for Twombly but for everybody that uses it, and nobody knows why. He's not alone in losing his lover/friend/whatever, although for him and everybody else using the system it feels like it. It also poses a potentially sinister question and leaves it floating in the air: Who is behind the Operating System? Somebody must have developed it and somebody must be running it. The viewer never finds out, and this gives this quirky-yet-charming romance a dark undertone that lingers far longer than the smiles it provokes.

[score=7]There is more to Her than just the eccentric, but it isn't actually on show during the film itself. The movie throws out questions about relationships, both on and off-line, explores some of them, and totally ignores others. Whilst this makes a certain amount of directorial sense, it also creates a level of frustration and gives the sense that there's another version of this story - seen through different eyes - waiting in the wings.

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