Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Her (a movie review post)

On the surface, Her is a love story. Under the surface, it's also a love story, but it's not just a love story. Not a love story in the way that we think of love stories. There's no boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back in this. It's more of an exploration about relationships than anything else, but it does it in a fascinating and unique way.

Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a letter writer. That's his job. He writes letters for people to other people for a company called (something like) Hand-written Letters. This letter writing that he does is, in many ways, a metaphor for the entire movie as the letters are personal letters, sometimes love letters, that he's hired to write (and, in some cases, has been writing for the same people for years and years and knows them extremely well), but he dictates the letters to his computer and they are printed out to look as if they are written by hand.

It's unclear within the context of the movie whether the people receiving the letters know they are written by a third party, but I have a hard time believing that they wouldn't know this since the whole letter writing thing is a "thing." Basically, Theodore facilitates other people's relationships by filling these letters with, what I'll call, manufactured emotions, but he can't maintain his own relationships, which is something we find out at the very beginning of the movie, so no spoiler there. He's in the middle of a divorce with his wife and is distant from his friends.

Now, there will be spoiler issues in the rest of this.

With all of that in mind, it is no surprise that Theodore easily finds himself slipping into a relationship with his new Operating System, the first OS with artificial intelligence. As his wife accuses him later, he can't do relationships with people that are right there in front of him. It's probably why he's so good at the letter writing. And he is good at the letter writing, one of the best, at least. It's no surprise that he finds himself attracted to this physically distant intelligence.

But it does open the door to exploring the idea of "what is a relationship?" What is required for a relationship to be legitimate? Is his love real? Is Samantha's (the OS)? Does she need a body in order to manifest the relationship? And it's not just him, because we get pieces of information in the movie that other people in society are dealing with the same struggles. Or the opposite struggles, as we learn that at least one user has a real hate relationship with his OS.

The movie doesn't really try to answer these questions, which is good. It just shows us that the questions are there and should be considered. Although there are a few concrete answers, one of which is that, at least sometimes, we do need the physical presence of another person. Especially in dealing with loss.

Joaquin Phoenix was great as Theodore. It's a very subdued performance, because Theodore is a very subdued individual. I think performances like this get overlooked because they're not outrageous, but Phoenix is much more believable in his role than, say, DiCaprio as Belfort, which is not to take away from DiCaprio's performance, but I think it's easy to look at a movie like The Wolf of Wall Street and think, "Wow, he was amazing" but forget about roles like Theodore Twombly which rely on conveying emotion rather than exaggerated action. Phoenix was superb at conveying the emotion of Twombly.

Even more amazing, though, was Scarlett Johansson. Everything she did was conveyed through voice only, and it was incredible. I don't think I've really given her a lot of credit in the past for her acting ability, which is not to say that I didn't think she was good; I just didn't think she was, well, better. It's too easy with her to think, "Oh, she got this part because of her looks," and not really credit her for the actual acting. But she's not physically in this movie, and what she did with her voice shows that she is better. She didn't even have the help of animators to convey her emotion; she just had to bring it audibly, and she did. It is actually upsetting to me that she has been dismissed from the Oscar nominations because she wasn't physically in the movie. That's just wrong.

Her is a great movie. It's a thoughtful movie. There are no explosions or car chases or alien invasions. It's sci-fi that could happen. And, yes, it was interesting... but in a good way.


  1. good review...still not sold on wanting to watch it..don't hate me!

  2. I'd heard it was different from what you'd expect. However, not sold either. Especially after Suze wrote a review that she absolutely hated this film. But overall, I just don't buy the premise. Men are attracted to the physical, and without that, I just don't see it happening.

  3. I liked this movie. By no means perfect but I thought it was full of interesting ideas. Nice to have something thought provoking to watch even if I didn't agree with all of its suppositions.

    By the way, I heard Sca-Jo was a late replacement for the original voice (Samantha Morton, I believe) so Joaquin was acting to a completely different voice at the time of shooting.

    Moody Writing

  4. You know like 50 years ago on The Twilight Zone there was an episode about a computer falling in love with a guy. That's how good that show was that 50 years later they're still using the same ideas.

  5. I really want to see this movie. Unfortunately, I'm the only one in my home that wants to see it. I may have to venture out to the movies alone.

  6. Are you implying car chases with exploding aliens couldn't happen?

    I know this idea has been explored in written SF for a very long time. But I'd gather that most folks have never seriously thought about loving a machine.

    I'm not overwhelmingly inclined to see this movie. But I have heard from almost every quarter that it's good.

  7. Not gonna lie, I can't stand Joaquin Phoenix. Not ever since he went bats*** crazy for a year and then said, "Oh, just kidding guys, it was all a joke in the name of performance art."

    With that said, I do want to see this movie. Not in a theater, but when it comes to DVD I'll definitely be seeing it. I love stories like this, if Demetri wasn't any indication of that.

  8. Tammy: It's certainly atypical enough that most people probably won't get into it. Like a slow starting book.

    Alex: I think you're overestimating the need for the physical.

    mood: She was a replacement, but there were added scenes once she was included, so he did also work with her.
    I like movies with interesting ideas.

    Pat: And there was Electric Dreams in the 80s, which I always have liked.

    Elsie: Well, it's not something that needs to be seen in a theater, but it's certainly worth seeing if you don't mind going alone.

    Rusty: Well, OJ showed us that car chases happen.
    And I think this is the kind of thoughtful movie you might like.

    ABftS: I don't have any feelings about him as a person one way or the other, but I think he can act. He was great in Walk the Line.
    And, well, he had a pretty screwed up childhood, so I kind of just look the other way at the rest.

    I think you'll probably like this one.

  9. I thought that movie looked weird, but interesting. I like that it poses questions that are meant to be thought about by the audience, although I think that's the type of thing most people can't stand.

  10. Jeanne: Hmm, maybe, it is weird. I considered it pretty normal but, then, I'm weird, so...

  11. I always love reading your reviews, you really get to the heart of the movie, I think.
    Maybe I'll watch it when it comes to Netflix...I'm conflicted now because Suze HATED it in her review, LOL.
    But now I want to see what you're talking about. :)

  12. I definitely love reading your movie reviews. Your review on this movie was great, but I don't know if I am sold on this particular movie.

  13. RG: I'm going to have to go find her review. There are things in this movie that challenge a lot of our societal conventions, so I can see why someone wouldn't like it.

    G_G: And that's why you should taste it. Right?
    That's what I tell my kids, anyway, whenever they say, "But I might not like it."

  14. Great review. This was incredibly thoughtful and made me feel like I could watch it and appreciate the characters and plot line, rather than expecting it to be a gimmick since being on the internet is the cool thing now.

    Am I the only person who finds this all just incredibly sad? There are all kinds of relationships (hence I am saying lots of valid arrangements people find themselves in), but when a character prefers artificial intelligence to a living, breathing companion I think that's too far. It's sad. It's a life choice of convenience, because relationships in person are full of ups and downs but so rewarding. Maybe it speaks more to my likes and personality, but thinking an OS is a sustainable partner -- to never feel touch or another person's presence, I can't find that anything but heartbreaking. I know people in real life who might prefer a setting such as this, and I don't get it. So, probably a great movie to see and examine, but I'll probably feel a little depressed afterwards.

    Great one, Andrew! You were very fair and clear in your review.

  15. Jean: I think the parallel here is to people who have long term online romances. I don't think those people look at it as a convenience but as the only way to have intimacy with another person. The fear of rejection, especially when rejection has been the pattern a person has faced, can be a strong influence.