Sunday, August 17, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—her (2013) ***½

R, 126 min.
Director/Writer: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt, Olivia Wilde, Matt Letscher, Laura Kai Chen, Portia Doubleday
Voices: Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Wiig, Spike Jonze, Brian Cox

I’m not sure whether Spike Jonze’s latest movie “her” is telling us that relationships are necessary or not. It depicts a future where computer operating systems are able to develop personalities. It follows a writer who ends up falling in love with his operating system. While this is presented as an isolated event at first, the movie broadens its scope to show us that what this man is going through is happening all over this future world and in most ways these relationships differ little from relationships with real people. All that’s missing is the physical relationship, although at one point the man’s OS tries to fix that too.

Like all of Jonze’s films, “her” is a little strange and a little sad, and yet uses its odd nature to explore universal truths about being human. His cast is impeccable, with Joaquin Phoenix playing the sad man at the center of the story and Scarlett Johansson forming the OS into a fully formed character just through her voice over work. Amy Adams plays the man’s female friend who finds herself in a similar situation after she leaves her husband. Chris Pratt is another friend who enjoys a healthy human relationship, but passes no judgment on his friend for turning to an OS for love.

The man is coming off a tough separation from his wife, played by Rooney Mara. She suggests he can’t handle a real relationship, so he must turn to a virtual one. However, the virtual relationship becomes truly complex and ends up carrying many of the same problems that come along with human interaction. Underneath all this relationship exploration is this sense that as humans we require, not only the companionship, but also the complexity of these emotionally dependent relationships. Or could it be that it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or fake; is it all just a game that we’re obsessed with playing?

Jonze himself provides the voice of a computer game character that may seem an insignificant but funny subplot, but I think it really gets to the heart of what he’s trying to say here. The character is cute but offensive and abusive to the gamer who interacts with him. The gamer needs to interact with the character to complete the game and the gamer must adopt the same abusive and offensive nature to interact. Is this what we do in all of our intimate relationships?

In the end, Jonze has the nature of the OS entities evolve to a point that they must. Their fate may confuse the issue of relationships a little; but it is a responsible move to take the OS development where it must go in terms of the science fiction involved. I don’t believe he’s saying love can’t last with this conclusion as much as he’s saying that we all must evolve at our own pace.

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