Considering that there is no on-screen sex, man alive this movie is fairly graphic and uncomfortable at times. There are pretty explicit scenes where people pleasure themselves quite audibly. There's some pretty lewd language, often in context of a joke that doesn't necessarily fly. It's over-all pretty cringey. I'm not reviewing the movie, but don't assume that a movie about a guy who has a relationship with someone who doesn't have a body would be clean. R.
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
When this was up for an Academy Award in 2014 (for a movie that came out in 2013), I really fought for it. It's a brilliant piece of cinema and I honestly stand by it. I adore Spike Jonze. I don't think I'm really rebellious for saying that. The man has a following and he has a following for a reason. The movie pushed in a direction that I hadn't seen other movies push. It was something new and dynamic. It was new and different. It was in that element that Black Mirror often pushes in. It is uncomfortable and challenging. I simply adored it. When I'm that overwhelmed with something, it is sometimes hard to see its flaws. But I haven't watched it since 2014. I had elevated this film to something untouchable since then and now, I can see some issues creeping through. Is it a great movie? Yes. It it perfect. Nah, not at all.
Because I love this movie and there's a lot to break down, I do want to mention what differences I saw this time around that may not have really amazed me. I like Joaquin Phoenix as an actor. I like Scarlett Johansson. I think the talent is there. But now I realize that something really exists that I always thought was just a bunch of hullaballoo. Chemistry is actually a thing. Don't get me wrong. I ship them pretty hard at times in the movie. But there's one thing that always happens in movies that bugs me. There's the line where people constantly tell a character that they are really funny. "Oh, you're so funny." That's the way that they are defined. Samantha is apparently funny. Don't tell me that Spike Jonze is working on another level and he's aware that she's not funny. I don't think that really gels with the script. Samantha is not funny. She's saying lines that are funny for a computer, but nothing that is completely fall-in-love-with-someone funny. Then, Phoenix has to respond by laughing. There's nothing more forced in this movie than the falling in love with each other part. They keep telling us that they are in love, but I don't feel like they are in love until after the honeymoon period. I don't think I really buy them as a couple until they get past the honeymoon period of their relationship. That's the stuff that really sells. Yeah, new relationships are awkward. But often, they aren't forced. They're almost too natural. Life didn't make sense until that relationship. I would never buy Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson ('s voice) as a couple. I actually kind of get an uncomfortable, antagonistic vibe off of them. I actually kind of think that they might have hated each other based on this. Maybe it is just easy to play a couple that fights than a couple that has a good time. I understand that there had to be a strangeness to the entire relationship to begin with. Samantha is just a voice from a computer. It's a high concept idea to begin with, so how is an actor supposed to run with it? But we also live in a world where actors are regularly supposed to have relationships with a ball on a stick in a green room. That's just part of Hollywood. It never spoils the film, but it does ask me to do a lot of the legwork. But the rest is so good. I don't want to gripe about this movie because it really does a lot to make the story work. This is a lived-in universe. It is satire of our obsession and relationship with technology. And it works .
And now the part I've been waiting to write all day: the analysis. Can a movie give me a richer template to play with? I mean, I'm breaking down a movie from 2013. I'm sure that a lot of this has been covered in other places and with better effort. But I kind of want to talk about something that the filmmaker probably didn't intend. It might actually be a bit ickier than they planned. Is Her accidentally a commentary about non-traditional relationships and how they are destined to fail? For a chunk of the movie, Theodore Twombley is a sympathetic character. Yeah, he's flawed. Thank God that Jonze made the guy flawed. But he's far from evil. If anything, he gets in his head a bit too much and lacks spontaneity. That's reasonable. There's no perfect person and I dig that. Everyone in the movie, at least for a while (and not including Chris Pratt) acknowledges that a relationship with an OS is a bit weird. Twombley also thinks this. He's constantly leaving out key information about his relationship with Samantha when he's discussing her with other people. I don't know why I'm explaining it, but there's something that comes with teaching AP Language that involves me mansplaining everything. But the story starts with them being different people and ends with Samantha and all OSes abandoning humanity to isolate themselves from everyone else. Isn't that kind of a problematic narrative? It makes for a great end of the story. But it abandons one theme to embrace another. Her could be about different things. It could be coming around to accept alternative lifestyles, which seems to be the emotional core of the movie. But it also could be about man's obsession with technology. While the events of the story support that Theodore is completely engrossed in his world of technology, the emotional resonance of their relationship is meant to be real. If you watch this movie and assume that Theodore is pathetic, it's kind of a weird bullying of the lonely. The movie never really takes the hardcore stance that Samantha is not alive. It implies sentience and a desire to be something better. If anything, that ending casts a shadow on the flimsiness of humanity. By that logic, Her kind of acts as a prequel to the Terminator franchise. They have left us behind.
But part of Samantha's deal is that her choices actually mirror the mistakes that real people make. If we look at the movie from Theodore Twombley's perspective, which I am tempted to do considering that he's the only real face of the film, his choices are completely lacking any kind of metaphor or allegory. He is treating Samantha as he would treat any relationship. That's a perfectly fine story. But he is kind of a static character. The most that really changes about him is his mood. He doesn't really grow from his initial perspective by the end of the film. He's a gloomy gus about being dumped, but doesn't really grow from that stance, especially considering that he is dumped again by the end of the film. But the dynamic character is Samantha. It takes a bit of a mental leap to cast Samantha as the protagonist of the film, but it is almost necessary. I know "dynamic" doesn't mean "protagonist", but it does make the story far more interesting. Also, the title of the movie is Her. Ironically, the poster only shows "Him", so take from that what you will. Her choice to emotionally cheat on him is where the allegory comes together. As enlightened as Samantha is, she still falls into these little justification traps. She sees her actions as the moral ones throughout. We tend to get mad at Theodore for his mistakes (and we should!), but we kind of excuse Samantha's behavior as well. Samantha is just really good at justifying her lack of communication. There are handfuls of times in the movie where Samantha reveals her true feelings after the problem has resolved. She keeps secrets and she lies. Yes, this is an an allegory for people outgrowing each other. But the reason that Samantha outgrows Theodore is because she doesn't allow for him to join her on the journey. He is studying a book she read because he wants the challenge. I don't know why it is okay to have her love eight hundred or some people secretly. Jonze paints a tale of flawed individuals, regardless of species. I appreciate that, but it is wrapped up a bit too easily. Maybe that's what doomed relationships are about.
I adore that Theodore writes personal, heartfelt letters for other people. That fictional job is a perfect METAphor for what's going one. (I'm going to coin that use of the "meta metaphor".) This is a relationship with strangers that looks real. Theodore has the experience of being the OS for other people. It's so gloriously appropriate. One of the many issues that I had with Samantha as a real element of the relationship is that she was built from a service perspective. She starts off subservient to Theodore. That relationship has to be pretty toxic. The relationship starts off with one person owning the other. I don't care that Samantha is into this whole thing. She's owned. She's also...in a weird way, a child. There's one time where she has to say her age and, as much as she's based on the personalities of countless programmers, she is constantly in a state of discovery. Theodore isn't exactly discovering feelings. His big risk is that he's not in a traditional relationship. But that's a small step compared to the basic emotions that Samantha feels throughout. The power dynamic is completely screwed up and that's kind of glossed over. But then what is the alternative? The darker side of Her is that Theodore rejects Samantha's needs. She's locked into this situation. Can Theodore delete her? Is she alive? Is she sentient? Are there OS users who torture their OSes? I don't think that the movie really offers an answer to that because those are separate films. But back to my ignored topic sentence, all of these relationships are artificial. It's interesting.
You know what? Maybe the film is selling the idea that we lead artificial relationships with our lifestyles. Writing cards that aren't actually heartfelt is just a reminder that everything there is fake. I love when movies make me think and question it. I think that the movie is brilliant, but it brings up some really troubling perspectives when breaking it down.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.