Some films just come around that explore facets of our being with such organic tenderness we can’t help but nestle into their storytelling arms and rest our heads on their delicately detailed shoulders and just fly away with them, to a part of our souls that sing so sweetly despite the lingering heartbreak we know we are bound to experience. Heartbreak laced with hope that the future, while seemingly bleak, is not as daunting as we imagine it to be.
‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’.
‘Lost in Translation’.
And now, we have ‘Her’. These are all films that, despite their quirky sides or their detailed (and effective) use of gimmicks all bare their hearts on their sleeves in a remarkable natural tone. There are no unnecessary dramatics, no processed manipulations. They all embrace the fluidity and organic nature of life itself to create real grounded stories about relationships that blossom and flourish and ultimately come to an end and yet they are never broken, shattered or dire. There is a beautiful message of hope, of life awakening even in the midst of despair because as human beings, we can move on, we can grow and we can survive.
‘Her’ tells the story of Theodore. Theodore is a lonely man. He is separated from his wife, who has filed for divorce, and spends his days writing letters for other people and then concludes his days at his apartment, alone. He’s haunted by a past that included a happy relationship filled with soulful interactions and a bond that felt spirited and upbeat, but something happened and it all ended and now Theodore finds it impossible to connect with anyone anymore. That is, until he meets Samantha. Samantha is an OS (Operating System) who adapts to the needs and desires of Theodore. It is immediately apparent that this isn’t a normal OS, but that Samantha is something special, at least for Theodore. She communicates with him, far beyond her normal duties, and becomes his friend. She understands him and draws him out and soon she begins to help him become the man he once was and had shelved for so long.
Samantha may not have a body, but she has a soul that runs deep.
There are so many things that impress me so much about ‘Her’ that it is almost hard to narrow them all down and put them into one review, but I must say that the single most impressive aspect of the film was the way that the relationship between Theodore and Samantha was handled, from the perspective of those outside of the relationship. This could have easily become one of those tense subjects that brought scorn or judgment from the supporting cast, but the way that Spike Jonze basically dismissed the strangeness of their relationship was remarkable. No one cared. Theodore’s friends never even batted a lash at it. Amy was wholly supportive, for she too was bonding with an OS. Paul, upon finding out that his friend’s girlfriend was an OS, doesn’t even question it. He just carries right on with his invitation to double date. The normalcy that was placed on the relationship helped ground the film, or at least ground the audience into the real dynamics of the film. This isn’t a film about a man’s relationship with an OS, this is a film about our human need to communicate, to bond.
I think that this aspect of the film makes the ex-wife, Catherine’s, reaction to Theodore’s relationship all the more haunting.
By using technology (and the advancement of such), Jonze created a world that speaks to us on so many levels. For me, ‘Her’ highlights that very innate desire to connect with someone, but ultimately the fear of actually doing just that. The fact is that sometimes it is hard to really connect with the people in front of us. Staring at someone, even someone we love, can make true communication difficult. We can feel their eyes, their judgment, their developing assumptions and yet when we take away the visual, some of the fear and anxiety strips away and we become a freer entity. ‘Her’ questions whether or not these devises we so often fall back on are a hindrance or a help, and in the process it explores themes like love, loss and hope.
‘Her’ depicts a depth of love that is not often found in films, but a love of real meaning and significance because Theodore and Samantha find a love that rests in the real person within and is not defined by a physical attraction.
But there is more to this story, as the final act will show.
Yes, Jonze’s masterful script (such a beautiful Oscar win) is so full bodied, for it builds up, tears down and then rebuilds (from a source that is born from the ashes) in a way that feels so real and relatable and construction. I love when a film can be constructive in ways that are completely unexpected.
Speaking of full bodied, these performances are just beautiful. All of the attention this year has been centered on Scarlett Johansson’s stunning voice work, a work that defied stereotypes by transcending the absence of body and giving us a very moving and intimate look at a woman discovering herself, day by day. While Johansson was tremendous, I feel that not enough attention has been given to Phoenix, who just continues to astound me. His performance here is marvelous. So intimate, so structured in this loose and organic way. He just folds into every scene with an air of abandon that I fell so deeply in love with. You can sense the guilt, fear and depression that haunt him when he is away from Samantha, and you can sense the freedom he feels when he is in her figurative arms.
This movie and all it represents is just beautiful.
For me, this is clearly one of the masterpieces of 2013. And A+ with honors. 2013 was, for me, a truly exceptional year that only grows and grows the more I think of it. There are few years in recent memory that delivered such a bounty of inspired, inspirational and breathtaking films. I can’t shake them…any of them. ‘Her’ is certainly one of the very best.