This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
kevinyang’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
On the surface, it all may seem like nothing more than a gimmick, merely a clever twist on a generic love story that should, say, criticize the modern world’s reliance on technology or wow us with a futuristic comedy. Yet, Jonze presents a world that is very much grounded in reality; it’s more of an evolved present than an imagined future.
The film is fundamentally about evolution, whether it be that of the humans or of the operating systems. One of the great things about Her is the balance struck between the two “species”, if you will; the OSes don’t inhabit any type of body, but it seems as if they’re human; in fact, Samantha (Johansson) endures similar types of problems as Theo (Phoenix) does: a perpetual sense of loneliness, a longing to connect, a longing to enjoy and understand life. You could say Samantha is simultaneously a naive child and a mature, perceptive woman who is able to help Theo open his eyes one more time.
Oh, and this relationship is beautiful to watch. Jonze’s script presents it in a very progressive, natural way, such that the thought of a human-OS relationship seems normal; the kicker here is that, with the way we’re living now, it doesn’t seem one bit far-fetched. He’s able to delve into the intricacies of a relationship–uncertainty, conflict, seduction, playfulness–without descending into the bowels of cliche. In addition, he gets the most out of his actors, and oh man, they are absolutely brilliant.
Phoenix and Johansson are at the center of it all; Phoenix delivers a more toned-down performance, but it’s one that is so emotionally charged, so honest and real, and it’s amazing to watch. Johansson has the toughest role to pull off, and she does it beautifully; she can go from the playful, childish girl to the lovely, seductive lover to the honest, heartbreaking woman like that, and she really deserves recognition for this. Amy Adams is perfect as the friend going through the same type of situation, and the Theo-Amy bond is just as strong as the Theo-Samantha bond. Rounding out the supporting cast is the fantastic Rooney Mara as Theo’s ex-wife, Olivia Wilde as his blind date, and Chris Pratt as his boss. I’ll expand on their roles in the spoiler section.
The movie deals brilliantly with the concepts of divorce and crushing disappointment, but as it is a movie about evolution, amidst the struggles of moving on, it also conveys a sense of hope. For example, Los Angeles is portrayed in muted colors with splashes of red, most notably for Theo’s clothes; maybe it emphasizes his loneliness, and maybe it emphasizes him. On a character level–I won’t go into too much detail here–both Samantha and Amy are symbols of hope, fully fleshed out characters that may seem like nothing in the grand scheme of things; yet, they’re beacons of light for Theo, and Jonze understands that at heart, this is a story about him. It’s a movie about the difficulties of everyday life and the desperation that comes with unfulfillment, but it’s also a movie about what it means to be human: you’re alive, and something else will come along.
-Theo works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a site employing people who write personal letters for other people. It’s reflective of the themes of the movie: Theo states near the end that they are “just letters”, but in reality, they’re outlets for his emotions and his own hopes, desires, and fears. They mean something. It’s just like Samantha: she may seem like “just a computer”, but she’s much more.
-Jonze’s stylistic touches are fantastic here; in particular, I love the montages of Theo and his ex-wife, and the musical interludes are gorgeous.
-There is a little alien who is the best thing ever. That’s all I’ll say of him.
-But yeah, that illustrates that this film can still bring the comedic moments; in fact, the comedy is derived from the story and the awkwardness of certain situations, and it doesn’t feel contrived at all.
-This movie is amazing.
Basically, what the film boils down to is the use of a science fiction as the backdrop to a very human tale; I’ve seen some criticisms of the fact that the movie doesn’t take its science fiction seriously and that it doesn’t set Samantha enough apart from the humans, but I can’t agree with them. It’s not that the humans can’t tell the two apart; it’s not that they aren’t different. It’s a tale of fleeting pleasures, one in which the participants don’t want to emphasize the differences for fear of losing each other.
Anyway, I do think the film hints enough at Samantha’s differences, especially starting with that sex surrogate scene and the subsequent argument over little things like her breaths. In particular, what I like about this scene is the inherent despair in the surrogate’s story, that same need to connect and feel that permeates the rest of the film. It’s a strange, yet deeply moving scene.
For the scenes in the cabin, there’s once again a common theme throughout: Sam and Theo’s abilities to compartmentalize, to sing and dance for a night before waking up to the OS-designed OS and a whole world of technology. What follows is a heartbreaking sequence of emotional gut punches, and Phoenix does brilliant work when he finds out about Samantha’s other lovers. It doesn’t hurt that it’s such a brilliant way of ending the film; both got so caught up in the relationship that each didn’t really realize the implications of technology, of evolution. It’s not a cliche ending at all, and the final shot atop the rooftop is absolutely gorgeous; the story is about how Theo reacts to the OS, so it has to end with him in touch with his roots: human connection, human friendship.
Spoiler Section Additional Thoughts:
-Olivia Wilde breaks your heart in that blind date scene.
-Oh, profanity-filled little alien. How I love you.
-Anyone notice the color scheme? When Theo’s walking around with Samantha, he almost always is in dark red. When he signs the divorce papers, he’s in a slightly more beige color. It’s an interesting way of conveying messages here.
-Jonze throws in some subtle touches that also convey the theme of technology and “real life” slowly becoming interchangeable; for example, the World’s Greatest Mom game Amy designs.
-Speaking of the divorce, Rooney Mara is excellent in the few scenes she has. She perfectly captures both the fleeting love she still has for Theo and the resentment she harbors.
-Kristen Wiig’s cameo is hilarious. “Choke me with that dead cat!"