In the near future, a lonely sad sack falls in love with his artificially intelligent computer operating system. From a description of the synopsis it would seem Her’s thesis is all about our increasing connection to our technology, but in fact it has far more to say about the very nature of relationships. The film examines their very concept and how we form them and what it means to fall in love. It explores the expansive grey spectrum between platonic and romantic.
In doing so, writer/director Spike Jonze completely reinvents the romance genre. Up to now “Romance” has mostly become a tired, clichéd amalgam of tropes that rarely provides its passions with a foundation of true heart or warmth or depth, and hasn’t had anything new to say in ages. But Jonze digs deeper and uncovers a world of untapped beauty and complexity. His characters – despite the ostensibly “fantasy” setting – ring truer than most as they hold up a mirror to those of us sitting in the audience.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a remarkable performance. He is on screen the entire movie, and in a sense he has to carry the emotions of two characters in his face, as Samantha the operating system doesn’t have a face to express. That said, Scarlet Johansson finds a way to telegraph those wordless emotions expertly through a voice-only performance. Amy Adams, as the best friend, is fantastic as well. (I far prefer her here than her super-sexualized role in American Hustle.)
Arcade Fire’s score is more subtle than I would’ve expected from them, and perfectly complements the tone and atmosphere. But the real behind-the-scenes star is the work by production designer K.K. Barrett. It’s a simple subtle vision of the near future. Fashions, with the exception of a penchant for high-waited pants, aren’t all that different from today as you would expect from a “futuristic sci-fi.” Art and décor has a minimalist beauty. And the technology mixes modern and natural, from a brown leather-backed pocket computer to a gorgeous sleek wood-paneled desktop monitor. (Apple, get on this – I want that desktop for myself!!!)
Her received 5 Oscar nominations for Original Screenplay, Production Design, Score, Song, and Best Picture. All are richly deserved, and I would be excited if any of them won.
When I published my Top 10 list at the beginning of the year, this was the film I was most concerned about possibly leaving out, but it hadn’t opened in St Louis yet. Now that I’ve seen it, I know my concerns were warranted. If I can change my list (and I can, because it’s mine!), Her would tie with Nebraska for #2, right behind The Wolf of Wall Street and ahead of Gravity.