Her (dir: Spike Jonze, 2013)

Posted: February 23, 2014 in Drama, English language, Romance, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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In Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely guy who separated from his wife a few months earlier. He makes his living by writing touching letters for special occasions on behalf of inarticulate people. His life changes when he installs a new “intelligent” operating system on his computer, a system that learns from experience and adapts. Using a female voice, the OS takes the name of Samantha, and before long Theo finds himself discussing his personal life with Samantha. They fall in love and have virtual sex. Needless to say, the path of true love does not run smoothly and, before long, Theodore is having to deal with Samantha’s insecurities as well as his own.

The other main human presence in the film is Theo’s friend Amy (Amy Adams), who herself gets involved with an OS after her own relationship falls apart. It also turns out that other people are having relationships with OSs, and even people in happy human relationships seem to view the human-OS relationship as entirely normal.

The film delivers us a meditation on the nature of love and social isolation in the modern age. Unfortunately, I found that I was unable to suspend disbelief to take seriously the notion that an operating system could demonstrate sufficiently the human-like intelligence and feelings that Samantha demonstrates. If it ever happens that is still going to be a long long way in the future.

Even more importantly I could not empathise with Theodore Twombly. I don’t know if this was inherent to the screenplay, whether it was because of the way Phoenix played him, or if Phoenix was just the wrong person for the part. If Jim Carrey were a bit younger I could have seen him in this role (think: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). But the script didn’t do Phoenix any favours either. An early scene shows Theo seeking someone for phone sex and getting it. The woman on the other end turns out to be really weird, and Theo is somewhat horrified, but rather than ring off he politely sees it through. Presumably this was meant to elicit some sympathy for Theo, but it merely made him seem marginally less creepy than he otherwise did. Throughout the movie I couldn’t shake the feeling that Theo was, well, just a bit too weird for my liking, and found myself in agreement with a blind date who tells him that he is a “really creepy dude”. This impression was also magnified by Theo’s appearance: a huge moustache and trousers that seemed to come up to his chest did not exactly make him the epitome of cool.

This is a shame, because there was a good idea underlying all this. Indeed, I liked the conceit of Theo being a letter writer on other people’s behalf, meaning that he himself was a kind of operating system for others. But sadly, the execution just wasn’t good enough.

Rating: 5/10

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