The world is always a little different when viewed through the lens of Spike Jonze. He’s taken us inside the mind of John Malkovich, made orchids poetic and terrifying, and caused wild things to come vividly alive. His latest film, the enchanting, revelatory and all around perfect, Her, may contain his most profound vision yet. It’s a film set in the future, but the unique way it handles loss and love proves timeless. The film is all consuming, and once we’re engulfed, Her never teases to remove us from its gentle grip.
Part of the audience’s melancholic understanding of Theodore is cemented in the fact that he doesn’t seem to want to be alone. He goes on the occasional date, he has a few friends, including his neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), but in truth, his mind is on Catherine (Rooney Mara), the wife he’ll soon be divorced from. We get to know Catherine through silent snippets of their life together: finding love, supporting each other, falling out. Throughout the film, Jonze does a very interesting thing by showing Theodore interact mostly with just women. So it comes as no surprise that a woman will soon be his savoir.
There’s this new thing people are trying. A limitlessly intelligent Operating System (OS for short), that can help you live a better life. Theodore buys the software and soon into the installation, he’s asked the most important question of his life: would he like a male or female OS? Theodore chooses a female digital companion, and moments later, he meets Samantha (voiced to utter perfect by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha can do anything. Read at the speed of light, organize a day in a millisecond – all of the mundane tasks that Theodore needs help with. But Samantha soon offers more. A voice of understanding, an ear for support, an unlikely source of love. And this isn’t love for humor’s sake; this is love at its most profound. We believe in the love between Theodore and Samantha because the actors sell it so convincingly as a thing of utter beauty.
All of Spike Jonze’s films are propelled with a distinct visual style, but Her is certainly the most spectacularly visual film he’s made yet. The look of the picture is simply stunning, from Hoyte Van Hoytema’s personal and lively digital cinematography, to K.K. Barrett’s pastel production design, to Austin Gorg’s freeing art direction. These people deserve countless awards for turning downtown Los Angeles into Heaven on Earth. It’s growing increasingly rare for a film to evoke genuine emotion based simply on how it looks, but that’s the feeling that washes over you when you watch Her. It truly is a sight to behold.
I’ve never seen Joaquin Phoenix play a man quite like Theodore Twombly. Coming off the frightening drunken rage he so expertly brought to life in The Master, Phoenix’s restrained and heartfelt portrayal of Theodore is a most welcome change of pace. Theodore is Phoenix at his most vulnerable – you’ll be awe stricken by the level of which he’s emotionally exposed himself in this film.
As Samantha, it is clear that Jonze made a wise choice when he replaced Samantha Morton’s voice with Scarlett Johansson’s late in post-production. That couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, but I simply can’t imagine anyone playing Samantha better than Johansson. You can feel the desire in her every word. Still, I must admit that of all the women in the film, it was Mara who I found myself most drawn to. Much of this can be credited to editors Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan, who so perfectly timed the placement of Mara’s despondent flashbacks.
Spike Jonze is an essential voice in the world of cinema. He continually drafts distinctive stories and makes films that are truly his own. Some argue that film is a lost art; that all original ideas have been taken. I say, look no further that Jonze’s oeuvre. In fact, look no further than Her. This is as singular and insightful as film gets. A