Her: Review

Her: Review

I know that a significant number of people found Her to be inspired, sublime and perhaps even the greatest film of the 2013 awards season. Accordingly, I will attempt to put my criticism in the most optimistic, politically correct light possible. I found the first half-hour of Her to be very charming and alluring, with stunning colors and a commendable depiction of the tortured Theodore Twombly by one of my favorite actors, Joaquin Phoenix. The dialogue was quick-witted and effortless with touches of profundity—several of the film’s lines are among my favorite this year. Such eloquence and mastery from writer/director Spike Jonze in the opening acts of the film only served to set up utter disappointment in the proverbial “second and third acts”.

Her is a romantic comedy-drama with science fiction elements, set in an ambiguous near future city. Humans have truly harnessed the power of technology, creating artificially intelligent Siri-like operating systems which think and desire in the same way humans do. On the other end of the scale, pants in the future ride up far past the belly button and kitchen burners look like they belong in a shabby 1970s apartment. The protagonist, Theodore, is lonely, divorced and has a career that is tragic in a charming sort of way—he writes heartfelt letters on behalf of people who are too lazy or unwilling to put in some thought themselves.

Enter, Samantha. Voiced impeccably by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha is an operating system that I refer to with the pronoun, “she”, even though the unfolding of the movie seems to suggest that such euphemistic personification is futile. Theodore and Samantha really hit it off and begin a romantic relationship (we later learn that dating OS’s is a new and unexpected phenomenon but catches on quite quickly in this hyper-tolerant future world). We are treated to/force-fed some extremely explicit sexual scenes between Theodore and his electronic lover, all of which convinced me that the BC Film Classification Office really dropped the ball on this one by rating this film “14A”. (In the US, the MPAA gave Her an “R” rating) The movie truly degenerates from there on, becoming a futuristic soap opera of romantic melodrama accompanied by the overwhelming sense that director Spike Jonze couldn’t decide between a film on human relationships and a film on human-robot relationships. Neither dynamic is investigated at a deep level and the characterization certainly does not drive the plot in a way where we are rooted in any of these characters. Both Theodore and Samantha are emotional anomalies who are presented one way in the first act and then proceed to become different people half an hour later. It is all very confusing, hectic and unsettling.

Perhaps most unsatisfying, however, is the ending. Nearly twenty four hours after I saw this movie, I am still mulling over the finale—not because it was particularly gripping but because I cannot find the film’s “reason for existence” in its “don’t ask, don’t tell” ending. In many cases, I love ambiguous endings. What I can’t stand, however, are non-endings which simply do not afford any kind of catharsis or even lack thereof. I could “spoil” exactly what happened in the ending of Her because it makes no difference. The knowledge of how the movie ended does not impact the rest of the movie whatsoever. Some will call this ingenious. I will call it emotionally unsatisfying, complacent and irresponsible. The emotional and plot arc of the film is nonexistent and in the end, I had surprisingly few “feelings” about any of the characters or their respective circumstances.

I desperately wanted to love Her. In fact, the trailer for the film is still one of my all-time favorites and stands among very few select sneak-peeks that moved me like a complete film would. Whoever made the trailer, however, was obviously absent during the making of the actual movie. Based on the preview alone, I recommended the movie on my “Winter Movie List”. I expected a film of rich characterization and pathos coupled with intellectual musings and those classic what-ifs—a fusion of the true-ringing romanticism of a Forrest Gump with the philosophical implications of an American Beauty or a Being John Malkovich. At the very least, I hoped that the film would be a tale of both wit and tragedy, both quirky romance and star-crossed love. Instead, Her was a promising thirty minute segment followed by a hazy, confusing blur of a film.

Perhaps I am simply not intelligent enough to understand the grand themes and underlying meanings that Her presents. I concede that this may be true and somewhere in the film is a significance that I have totally missed. However, what I am not willing to capitulate on is the narrative behind Her, which can only be compared to the troubling human relationships lamented by the characters in this movie—Her is a mindboggling emotional roller coaster that does not end with comprehension or even understanding but rather with cold rejection and the feeling that you have been lured, used and then hopelessly tossed aside.