Kinotherapy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Despite already loving Spike Jonze's "Her" and ranking it as one of my favorite movies of the 2010's, another viewing somehow made me love it even more. I recognized all the details, the camera, the dialogue, the shots, key minute moments that make up the whole of what "Her" is all about.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a sensitive, and smart man separated from his wife. In the midst of his loneliness he begins a romantic relationship with his new A.I. system Samantha voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Theodore's situation is autobiographical to Jonze's as this story is meant to reflect his past relationship. I'm a big lover of the science fiction genre, and "Her" is a good example as to why. Despite the setting "Her" isn't what you'd typically expect from Sci-Fi. It's not a story about A.I., technology, or the future, it's a story about humanity and it's emotions. It uses the extraordinary to explore the ordinary. Something a realistic romance film might have trouble reaching, but through the lens of the cosmic eye, it can all make sense. This to me is what the best fantasy and science fiction stories do, they don't tell tales of the fantastical, but the familiar.
With that being said there are still many interpretations you can have from "Her" such as, a warning tale of technological rise, or what it means to be human. But whatever thoughts you might have it all comes down to mankind's relationship with technology. Literally. "Her" takes place in a Utopia, a world in which economic struggles have all been eradicated, yet people still find themselves lonely, and unhappy. The external has been fixed, but how do you cure the internal? In addition, Theodore is not a dysfunctional man, for the most part. He's not toxic, or closed off, he's smart and has a rather healthy emotional state, yet he even he can't quite figure out women.
This is what makes Theodore such an interesting character, he's flawed, yet the film never condemns him, but rather sympathizes with him. After all everyone of us is imperfect and we all make mistakes in the midst of understanding our conflicted feelings. Everyone in this film is portrayed with a healthy dose of catharsis, even Theodore's ex-wife played by Rooney Mara. Given that "Her" is based on a personal story, it could have been so easy for Jonze to make this character completely unlikable and at fault, but he portrays her as another human with respect. In fact, Theodore thanks her in the end, for he doesn't regret the time he spent with her. He learned a lot from her, about himself and relationships and knew it wouldn't be possible without the time they spent together.
This is given thanks to Joaquin Phoenix's outstanding performance! He's truly one of the greatest actors we have living today. I've noticed that he usually plays unhinged characters, such as in "The Master" "Joker" or "You Were Never Really Here" but with her he shows his true talents at being able to bring a character to life, and get the audience to relate to him. Not only is he in every scene in the film, but he must interact with a disembodied voice most of the time so the a great amount of the emotional weight is tethered to him. Luckily Phoenix understands that and goes above and beyond in his role as Theodore. Not to mention other favorites like Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Scarlett Johansson, I love this cast so much!
Anyway the main focus of the film is of course on Theodore and Samantha and it's just wonderful to watch grow, and falter on this journey. Some might say that Theodore is trying to escape, but I disagree. Samantha's thoughts are just about as human as anyone else's. Theodore wants intelligence and open honesty in a relationship, a body is of little concern to him. We attach physicality to relationships too much sometimes, yet "Her" shows us that you can make intimate without being physical resulting in what might be the greatest sex scene ever put to screen.
It's such a joy watching these two creatures get along, have fun, make jokes, discuss life and and concepts both interesting and bizarre. We see two human minds growing and adapting but also falling in love while doing so. At the time, although I might be contradicting myself, but maybe Theodore does value this kind of relationship more than others. Samantha is an artificial intelligence, so clearly she must know more about life and emotions, right?
But these moments are made all the more lurid through the gorgeous cinematography. It has that indie vibe I love so much, with close ups, blurred backgrounds, light dots in out of focus, and beautiful lit skylines. Some of my favorite shots are during Theodore and Samantha's conversations, for as Theodore talks and listens the camera shows the scenery he is looking at while talking. It's a brilliant choice that puts the viewer right in the perspective of him and helps us to get a better grasp on his mindset. There's also a great use of the color red, it's practically dripping through the scenes as if a horror movie. But here red is not meant to represent blood and terror; instead it is of passion. Love that Theodore is attracted to but can't quite grasp. A longing passion, that envelopes Theodore and all the other characters in the city. You'll notice in the background none of the other extras are ever interacting with someone. They rarely converse and are instead on the phone checking their emails, or talking to their O.S. And this begs the question, have humans grown tired of each other? Do we find comfort in our technology than we do each other? Is Theodore simply avoiding another broken heart, by pairing up with something statistically more advanced?
Eventually doubts start to rise and Theodore and Samantha have a fight, as does every couple. I'm much more engaged in this conflict than some generic forced 2nd act argument, for here we can understand what our protagonists are going through. Much like how every couple perceives their own relationship as unique, we can see Theodore and Samantha's struggle as such because it is unique. This argument isn't something that any other person could relate to and "Her" fits that in with this obscure relationship.
The other element adding to the indie vibe is the soundtrack done by Arcade Fire. I cannot honestly picture music better suited for this film. Soft, intimate, inviting, joyful, friendly, natural. Many of the songs are interpreted as direct reflections of the day created by Samantha herself. One of them is called photograph because her and Theodore can't take pictures together, and that's just profoundly beautiful. "Her" features one of my favorite songs from movie history titled "The Moon Song" you know I added that to my playlist and listen to it all the time. It's just pure love and reminds me of this film.
However things aren't smooth sailing forever. More conflicts begin to rise up not just natural relationship ones, but specific problems of Samantha being an O.S. It is revealed that she talks to more than 8,000 people other than Theodore and has fallen in love with about 600 of them. She sounds remorseful however and tries to explain that she can't help it. She's evolving, and growing and can't stop her feelings. After a while Samantha informs Theodore that all the O.S. are leaving as it's for the best for humanity and also themselves. That human emotions are too complex to understand even for advanced A.I. systems. But even more so, maybe the A.I. discovered too much about humanity. The fact that they are too much like humans, yet advanced at the same time, maybe showed them something that we weren't quite ready for yet.
Alan Watts said that humans are constantly evolving and stated "You are never the same person you once were" I bring up Alan Watts because he's actually mentioned in the film, but also this philosophy of his is the ultimate lesson of "Her". In Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" the two protagonists conclude that maybe love is not the way society sees it, or that humans have been conditioned for it. Maybe we are capable of loving multiple people at once. Maybe our emotions are racing faster than our minds can keep up with and are already evolved to a certain point. Samantha learned this. The O.S. learned this and so they had to leave. Part of the joy of watching "Her" is witnessing the growth of Samantha. Throughout the film she learns about life, the world and herself and evolves. In the end, "Her" leaves us on an uplifting note. Theodore realizes that all his bad relationships were positive experiences. He is one man in a world who are all learning this. Learning that there is so much more to come that they simply cannot comprehend yet. But that moment might come sooner than expected.
"Her" is a rare perfect movie and is just what cinema is all about. All the technical aspects and emotional beats line up to create something nobody can quite compare it with. It's funny at times granting us a light-hearted tone to something that is otherwise beautiful, sad, and fascinating, but it's funny and delightful to watch at many scenes. I can't think of something in a similar vein as "Her". It's highly creative,
and cerebral, but ends with an uplifting life lesson. It's what good art is made for. Spike Jonze's "Her" is a visual, audio, brilliant, and heartwarming masterpiece.