Man and Machine: A Love Story
When I try to speak to people about Spike Jonze’s 2013 film starring Joaquin Phoenix as a loner turned lover once he purchases a new operating system, my positive comments and rave reviews are often met with responses such as: “You liked that movie?”, “He falls in love with Siri, that’s so dumb,” or even, “I walked out while he was having phone sex with that creepy girl.” Far be it from me to judge somebody on their taste in movies (I, in fact, try very hard to do the opposite by listening intently to people who enjoy the Fast and the Furious franchise as to why the hell they consider any of it worth watching and still have not been satisfied but will continue to listen), but to discount this film from among the greatest of the last five years is a massive mistake, especially if you aren’t even watching it all the way through. If you do make it past the phone sex scene, which is actually hilarious and contextually very relevant to the first act, you will find that Her achieves what many might think to be impossible. You see, this really is a love story about a man and his operating system. It’s not a satire, despite some truly funny moments. It is a smart, eloquent, and beautifully presented commentary on loneliness, belonging, love, and all that connects these extremely important aspects of our daily lives.
If you don’t already know Joaquin Phoenix, emerge from under the large rock you live beneath and watch: The Master, Inherent Vice, Walk the Line, remember that he plays the evil emperor Commodus in Gladiator and that Mel Gibson ridiculously tells him to “swing away” in Signs. The guy is everywhere and deservedly so, what an actor. In my humble opinion, Her is his best performance as he communicates so much with his body language and facial expressions. So much hinges on his non-verbal communicative skills in this role because many times he is not actually speaking to someone in front of him, but into an earpiece to his operating system, Sam (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson). The loneliness and desperation that Phoenix’s character, Theodore experiences in the early part of the film contrasts greatly with the elation he exudes once he falls in love. The differences are noticeable and disturbingly familiar to someone who seems to find himself living in similar extremes (sure, I mean me, but don’t tell me you’re any different).
I should tell you briefly about the story if you have no idea about the film, you know, because of your large rock and all. Theodore works for a company that writes love letters for people who struggle to express how they feel to their lovers. Theodore is one of the best at his job, apparently very in touch with what it is that makes a touching, genuine letter. Strangely enough, Theodore himself has recently separated from the love of his life and since has been simply going through the motions, not taking much of an active role in bettering things for himself. He goes to work, comes home, plays video games, tries to meet women in the virtual world (hence the phone sex scene mentioned twice already), and none of it seems to be working. One day, Theodore buys himself a new operating system which is, one could say, adaptive. The artificial intelligence in the system has personality and gets to know Theodore personally. Despite his initial hesitations (ones we would probably all have in the same situation) Theodore not only eventually embraces the operating system, he and it (she?) fall in love.
Yes, it is a film about a man falling in love with an artificial intelligence program, I know. But it’s the best film you will watch this month, this year even depending on your movie-watching habits. Allow me to elaborate.
Spike Jonze, writer and director of the film, is no rookie at creating quirky and amazing films (see Being John Malkovich if you need any convincing), but like I tried to emphasize earlier, this film is not different because of its premise of a man falling for his computer system, but because of its meticulous artistry and attention to detail. The ways that Theodore is framed are purposeful and allow us as the audience to relate how he feels throughout the film. As you watch the film, which you will, take note of the differences between the opening image and the final shot, close up vs. long. We can discuss why Jonze would do such a thing, and how these two shots work in perfect tandem (and are only two examples of many throughout the film) at any time! A perfect analysis of Jonze’s techniques is given in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RISgjGPkA0) by the master of video essay on film, Channel Criswell. Do yourself a favour and check out this video after having watched the film if it interests you.
Look, you don’t have to watch any film you don’t want to watch, but please trust me on this one, you will like this film. You will, it’s that simple. If you don’t, then enjoy the next five Fast and the Furious films and let’s never speak to each other again. I’m kidding. But really.
You’ve Touched Me in a Good Way
Sci-Fi for Days
Her Needs and Desires (Channel Criswell):