Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day 262: Her

"The past is just a story we tell ourselves."

For his first two feature films, director Spike Jonze paired his unique visual sensibilities with one of the most original and high concept screenwriters of all time, Charlie Kaufman. For his fourth feature film, Jonze borrows a page right out of Kaufman's playbook and created Her,  a film that is ostensibly about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) living in the not-too-distant future falling in love with his new hyper-aware computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johannson). And of course, as with all truly great high concept stories, that log line is merely a jumping off point for an incredibly well-told story.

Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) works as a writer for a company, composing personal letters for people who are not articulate or artistic enough to express their feelings for one another. He has an incredible gift for crafting these letters and expressing emotions through these letters, but he is an introvert in his day to day life, often making no more than small talk with his boss (Chris Pratt) or his neighbors (Amy Adams, Matt Letscher).

On his way to work one day, he sees an advertisement for a new operating system that promises to be the most intuitive and personalized one available. After purchasing it and answering a few questions about himself, he is connected to his new OS Samantha (Johannson), who proves to be immediately personable and helpful with helping him get his life organized. It isn't long before Samantha discovers that Theodore is going through a divorce, and begins to try and help him navigate more than just his virtual life.

To reveal any more of the plot would do the film a terrible disservice when you see it, and I cannot recommend you seeing it any higher. The film presents us with a future that doesn't seem all that far off from our present, and makes things that seem implausible highly possible. The connectivity that our current society has with technology will evolve again within the next ten years to a future that likely resembles this one in which people connect to their devices and almost completely disconnect from one another. An operating system that can fulfill our emotional needs is the only void that has yet to be breached, and the ease with which this film take that leap is astounding.

The film is also about more than just a simple "guy falls in love with his computer" conceit. It's about deep emotional scarring that occurs when we give our lives and our hearts to someone and don't want to risk being hurt again. Theodore seems, on the surface anyway, to be a man looking for something, for a connection to someone after his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara) fell apart, and the way that the film presents their past through mostly wordless flashbacks is absolutely devastating and ground the film in such a way as to make it undeniably real and painful.

It's also exceedingly clever in the way it presents a future society where entire industries develop around ever advancing technology and ever disconnecting human interactions. The desire for the tangible begins to creep in to a society that has made real human connection a luxury, and it is a powerful storytelling device. A handful of scenes are terribly off-putting at first, but in retrospect lend the film a verisimilitude that very few other love stories have ever had.

After his triumphant return to acting in last year's The Master, Joaquin Phoenix hits it out of the park once again as a very differently damaged soul. His Theodore is almost the polar opposite of Freddie Quell, so crippled by his own fears and desires that he refuses to act on them, rather than being impulsively dangerous as he was in The Master. He plays damaged goods better than almost anyone else, yet he gives us a protagonist worth rooting for here, and you can't help but want him to find true love.

I've never thought much of Scarlett Johannson the actress, other than to say the requisite "she's easy on the eyes," so for Jonze to take the risk of completely cutting that aspect of her off from the audience is bold and pays off incredibly well. You can easily understand why Theodore would fall in love with Samantha, and her child-like desire to experience everything to its fullest makes her performance truly great. It's the best possible outcome for such a ballsy casting move.

And as for Jonze's writing and direction, it has frankly never been better. The script captures so many complicated emotions and distills them in such a way that it devastates the audience with its simplicity. It never fails to be honest, and that's what makes it so impactful and memorable, and you'll find yourself replaying lines and scenes in your head long after the film is over. The film's final ten minutes are its best, wrapping things up in such a way as to make your head spin with how beautifully elegant the resolutions are, and showcase a true synergy between script, performance, direction and editing.

It's been almost ten years since I connected with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in ways I never thought I could connect with a film, and I think I may have finally found its heir apparent, and if you know me (which, who else reads this blog), you will understand how potent that statement is. All of the things I am going through in my personal life likely played such a large part in my connection to this story, but I can see through that as well to recognize how well done everything is, and I have no doubt that every viewer will connect to different aspects of this film in their own way.

Her is nothing short of the finest film produced in 2013, and will likely stand the test of time as one of the greatest love stories ever put on film. If any of what I've just said doesn't make you want to run right out and see it, then I will go ahead and just say it. Run right out and see this movie. I am beside myself with the desire to see it again. 

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

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