I must admit, before I discuss “Her” at all, that I have cherished every Spike Jonze film to date.
I look forward to his films because his films don't just ask questions, they demand your thoughts and introspection. He shoots with a much simpler style than most of his fast-cutting contemporaries. He loves long takes with snail-paced camera movement.
In a world where most directors appear afraid of long takes, Jonze is the man who isn't scared of sticking with one so long it becomes awkward.
I'm pretty sure he relishes the awkward, and “Her” is his most awkward film yet. It features several extremely long takes of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) talking to his computer and some really weird sexual situations.
Jonze takes a lot of chances with “Her,” which he also wrote. It's ambitious and curious at the same time as he explores love, lust, hate, heartbreak, guilt, loneliness, friendship and the ever-changing nature of existence.
Anyone else telling this story would keep the focus on the relationship Theodore has with his computer's self-aware operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). But Jonze's curiosity doesn't stop with one interpersonal relationship. He's curious how the world around will respond and delves head-first into an odd new fetish created by the emergence of self-aware technologies.
“Her” is set somewhere in the not-too-distant future and follows the separated, but not divorced, Theodore.
He works as a personal letter writer, which is a weird job anyway. People who want to send a personal letter to their spouse or grandkid provide the gist of what the letter should say, at which point Theodore makes it sound genuine and heartfelt. The job itself opens up two big ideas. First and foremost, are we really so lazy that we're willing to pay someone to write a friggin' letter to Mom? Secondarily, how can someone who captures genuine emotion with his writing be as cold and lonely in his day-to-day life as Theodore?
Now enter Theodore's new computer operating system.
It's equipped with a super sexy voice and matures exponentially. Theodore and his operating system quickly fall in love, but Theodore is a grown man who matures at a normal human rate and has one conversation at a time. His operating system, on the other hand, is maturing rapidly.
Most storytellers have feared the idea of machines turning against you when they become self-aware. Jonze seems to fear the idea of machines getting quickly bored with us when they become self-aware.
While almost every element of this film is weird or different, the elements fit together just right. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema's images are both melancholic and dreamlike — colors seem muted, even in rooms full of prime colors, and everything looks slightly stale.
Phoenix and Amy Adams, who plays Theodore's lifelong friend, capture all sorts of weird emotions as they earnestly discuss the impacts their new “friends” are making in their lives.
Almost every scene is uncomfortable and the answers to some (if not most) of the questions raised are depressing (especially for anyone asking similar questions in their day-to-day life).
“Her” is one of the most unique experiences I've had in a while. It's subtly beautiful and simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic, romantic and jaded, energetic and tired. I think that whether an audience member leaves the theater happy or sad will have more to do with their mind than the film.
Jonze wrote and directed the film fearlessly, asking a thousand questions without answering hardly any. It's a film crafted to inspire great conversation.
It's also fascinating, warm, funny, depressing and endearing. I'm sure that “Her” is going to inspire fascinating discussions for years to come.
“Her” is rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity.