Her

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Director: Spike Jonze.
Screenplay: Spike Jonze.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, Steve Zississ, Bill Hader.
Voices: Scarlett Johansson, Brian Cox, Spike Jonze, Kristen Wiig.

Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity

After bringing the warped and surreal works of Charlie Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” to the screen, director Spike Jonze carved himself a reputation for the off-beat. However, a misjudged adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story “Where The Wild Things Are” followed and I have to admit that doubts were raised about his abilities. I wondered how much of Jonze was in his earlier films or did he actually need Kaufman in order to construct something of substance? On the evidence of “Her“, though, it’s apparent that Jonze is the real deal and fully capable of crafting his own original work.

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Spending most of his time writing love letters for others, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a very lonely man in the midst of a bitter divorce. In order to find some sort of emotional connection he purchases the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system known as the OS1. Going by the name of Samantha (and voiced by Scarlett Johansson), their interaction grows to the point where they fall in love. However, both of them struggle with the lack of a physical connection and their feelings of elation turn to doubt and inner conflicts.

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The first thing that strikes you about “Her” is the gorgeous production and set design by K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena. Along with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema they achieve their vision of a not-too-distant future by indulging in lush pastel colours and dated fashion that’s reminiscent of the 80’s. It’s at once both stark yet beautiful and draws comparisons with the work of Stanley Kubrick and his clinical approach to “A Clockwork Orange” or, more so, “2001: A Space Odyssey” in it’s reliance on computer operated systems and voice interaction. The now infamous HAL9000 from “2001” is not that far from Samantha and the comfort and correspondence that it provides it’s human counterpart. Also like Kubrick’s aforementioned Science fiction classic, Jonze’s concept of the future concentrates on the abstract and metaphysical. As a result, it taps into the zeitgeist and becomes an important and astute commentary on a generation connected to the world but foolishly ignoring the ability to connect personally.

The growing intelligence of Samantha as an operating system also begs the philosophical question of Cartesian doubt and the relevance of free thought and emotion. As Samantha begins to explore her possibilities, Theodore and the other human characters are drifting towards an empty and soulless existence. This contrast allows Jonze to hint at the problems we can expect in our worrying obsession with technology.

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On paper – or to the ear – the concept may sound ridiculous but on a visual and emotional level, Jonze has crafted a sublime piece of work here and it works primarily because of the irresistibly expressive voice talents of Scarlett Johansson and a superb anchoring performance by Joaquin Phoenix. His omission from the Oscar nominations this year is glaring and he can feel himself very unlucky to be so. He delivers the requisite shyness and vulnerability that brings Theodore’s loneliness to the fore and it’s also worth pointing out that he actually spends most of his time onscreen completely alone. For Jonze to fully realise his vision he needed an actor that could hold your attention and never allow the material to fall prey to absurdity and it’s Phoenix’s nuanced abilities that drive the heartfelt message to it’s Brave-New-Home.

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To quote Albert Einstein “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”. We may not quite have reached that point yet but Jonze’s social, Sci-Fi fable about our co-dependence and increasing disconnection and the technology that perpetuates it, is stark and thought provoking material. It’s simply a wonderful piece of filmmaking and one of the very best of the year.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Samantha Morton was originally the voice of Samantha. She was present on the set with Joaquin Phoenix every day. After the filming wrapped and Spike Jonze started editing the movie, he felt like something was not right. With Morton’s blessing, he decided to recast the role and Scarlett Johansson was brought and replaced Morton, re-recording all the dialogue.

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57 Responses to “Her”

  1. Oh man, I can’t wait to check this out, seems we’ve been waiting for absolutely ages for this! You’ve upped my anticipation for this one mate, superb write up!

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  2. I am hearing such good stuff about this movie, really looking forward to it. Phoenix has turned in to quite the actor.

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  3. I believe I started my own review of this flick by saying it is wonderful. Which is the way you ended yours, so I guess we agree. Great review. πŸ™‚

    And also great commentary. Your comparisons to Kubrick’s work are not far fetched, and I appreciate your observations on Her’s themes, as well.

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    • Very kind words Josh. Cheers mate. I did get a Kubrickian feel to it. Somewhat diluted of course, but it was still there. Loved the themes too and can’t wait to see it again to delve into it further..

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  4. My favorite movie I have seen this year…great review

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    • We’re in absolute agreement Nosta. This is my favourite of the year too and the only film I’ve handed 5 stars so far. Inside Llewyn Davis is very close but in still pondering on that.

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      • Not a fan of that movie (reviewed it earlier this week), but Her I will be catching in the cinema latter this month again.

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      • You didn’t like Llewyn Davis? Man, I shall have to swing by on that review. Still catching up with people’s posts at the moment.

        Still, at least wee agree on Her. πŸ˜‰

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  5. Nice review. I’d say this is my favorite of 2013 as well followed by Inside Llewyn Davis. I definitely agree with the Kubrick comparisons (this also reminded much of A. I.). The ending had me choking up, really hit me hard.

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    • Cheers man! It would seem we’re completely eye-to-eye on the top two. Llewyn Davis would be my next pick after this.

      There’s was certainly an air of Kubrick about it and A.I. As you rightly mention. And that ending was pretty hard heavy. Although also a tad ambiguous. I’ll wait till I see it again before deciding on that end shot.

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  6. Still need to see this. Thanks for the heads up, Mark.

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  7. I am really looking forward to this. Between the reviews and the trailers it feels like it’s going to be an awesome experience!

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  8. Don’t question your rating for one second! Easily one of the best 2013 had to offer and looks like the type of film that’ll stand the test of time. I have a feeling in the near future, we will be telling our kids about how back in the day this flick was transcendent, at the forefront of filmmaking.

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    • Cheers Joseph! I haven’t given 5 stars to any film yet. This was my first and I think it’s thoroughly deserves it. Totally agree, that this could be a film that we’ll look back on and realise the prophetic vision that Jonze had. Wonderful stuff!

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  9. We’ve had to wait a good long while for this, can’t wait to finally catch it. Absorbing review Mark. I’ll get back to your email by the way!

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    • Get out there and get it, man. Film of the year and the wait was worth it.

      By the way, I was a little pissed when I sent that email. Not sure if the idea made sense or was even any good! Lol πŸ˜‰

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  10. Glad to see the high rating Mark. It’s my #2 film of 2013 so obviously I love it πŸ˜€

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  11. To me, it’s much more about the next step of evolution and whether having a flesh-and-blood body and brain will be essential to being sentient, self-aware and able to feel emotion. Definitely one of my favorites of last year for many, many reasons. Good review Mark.

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  12. Excellent review, Mark–best I’ve read. I don’t know what to say other than I agree with you 100 percent. How boring, eh? πŸ˜‰

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    • Not that boring when you say it’s the best you’ve read Cindy. I appreciate that very much. Can’t thank you enough. Just a fantastic little film on so many levels. I seriously doubt it’ll take the Oscar for best film but it should.

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  13. Nice review, Mark, and I agree that Joaquin Phoenix is a glaring omission from the Oscars this year. Incredible performance, and a pretty stunning movie all around. πŸ™‚

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    • Cheers Chris. I’m saddened that Phoenix didn’t make the cut but then again, so many great performances missed out this year. Doesn’t make it any less of a magnificent film, though. Best of the year.

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  14. Fabulous review Mark. Tons of praise out there for this film. There are so many things I liked about this flick mainly the performance by Phoenix. He was magnificent. For me it’s the story that hits a few speed bumps. For example the occasional tone-shattering bursts of “humor” we get in the first half of the film. It felt as if Seth Rogan was brought in to write a couple of scenes. And then I thought the story was spinning its wheels a bit in the second half.

    But I would love to talk to you about the ending sometimes (don’t want to spoil anything). The ending is really interesting and I have a very different potential interpretation of it.

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    • Thanks again bro. I absolutely loved this. Film of the year for me. I too thought Phoenix was superb and I didn’t actually mind the humour in the first half. In fact, I think the film benefited from a lighter touch at times. Loved the concept and really went with and Johansson deserves the utmost credit for having you believe in Samantha.

      The ending is certainly an interesting one. I would like to discuss and hear your interpretation. It would seem that it could be viewed in many ways. Me and my good lady both seen it differently.

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  15. Sterling work again man. Her might be one of my favorite films of all time. It really is that good to me.

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  16. Wow Mark no1 eh? High praise indeed. I’m really looking forward to it, another well-written review. Glad to hear it’s brilliant.

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    • Yip! It’s #1 for me Chris. This little film really struck a chord with me and the only film among the Oscar nominees or any recent film over the last year or so that I’ve gave 5 stars to. Brilliant!

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  17. reservations still on this Markus, but good review my friend and you know I am always willing to be influenced otherwise. I know there has to be more to it than what the trailer has suggested to me so far which weird-ed me out a bit tbh!

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    • There’s no doubt that the concept is a but weird and echoes that Al Pacino movie “S1m0ne” in some ways but there’s depth and profundity here that really raise it above all other films of the year. It’s a great movie Kev.

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  18. Great review, Mark. As you know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this. I thought the strongest aspect of this film was the fantastic cinematography and production design, but I found it so dull.

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  19. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Nice review Mark. I am really looking forward to this – catching it later in the week. Glad to see you enjoyed it so much, it has been a fantastic start to the year; I caught Nebraska last night which is brilliant.

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    • Cheers Stu. I’ve yet to see Nebraska. I keep meaning to and then missing my chance. I’m sure it’s great as I normally like Payne’s movies but I’m just so taken with Her that I can’t see any other film toppling it from my #1 spot. I’d this movie the damn Oscar! πŸ˜‰

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  20. Absolutely excellent Mark! This concept piques my interest, would love to see how it all comes together! (Seeing as I am probably the only person in the world who does not care for Scarlett Johannson) I really do like Phoenix though!

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  21. Can’t wait to see this!

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  22. ray brayne Says:

    Alan Watts was Guru to the hippies in the sixties and in his Zen-ness said things like…”trust the water and you float, grasp the water and you drown.” Thus the OS’es turn to him for enlightenment and reach consciousness and nirvana. Can mankind do the same without the Os’es?
    It’s kind of a shame about the great production sights. If you closed your eyes and just listened, you wouldn’t miss much. After all, we never see Samantha she’s all in Theodore’s head thus ours as well.
    But this is the first futuristic movie in a long time that wasn’t post-apocalypse and I’m glad of that. I liked it but I’m still chewing on it and there’s a lot to chew!

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    • “trust the water and you float, grasp the water and you drown.” I like that very much and that’s quite fitting for the themes of this film. It really struck a chord with me. Can’t wait to see it again as there’s definitely more to chew on. Particularly the ending. Cheers Ray.

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