Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in “Her”
I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way! -Brother Cavil: Battlestar Galactica
Where the Wild Things are director Spike Jonze returns with yet another intriguing film, this time about Artificial intelligence. Intentional or otherwise it automatically brings up the Steven Spielberg film. Jonze takes the simple idea of the computer, as we know it and its core operating system. The difference between the one we use today on our computers and the one Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) purchases in the film is; his is the “first” ever fully artificial operating system. Referenced in the film and as an expert on computers would tell you its abbreviated named “OS”; Twombly falls for his OS whom names itself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as something that is artificially intelligent is supposed to do.
The concept of artificial intelligence has been around for years and in film we’ve seen various incantations of it. In recent years we’ve seen machines built by humans trying to destroy all of humanity in both The Terminator and Batlestar Galactica. Whereas Bicentennial Man (1999) and Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence focus on the ability of the how the personality becomes more human and shows characteristics of a human. Her is nowhere as dramatic as the aforementioned speech, but the film’s end is indeed very similar to the popular Sci-Fi show.
Samantha is designed to please Twombly, but quickly becomes more than that with every conversation she has with Theodore. The couple begins going on adventures and telling each other everything. This eventually leads to the strangest scene I’ve seen in years: Twombly and Samantha having sex. Although, you may be thinking “phone sex with Scarlett Johansson is bad?” Imagine softcore porn without the imagery.
The film pushes the boundaries of what one is capable of with using voice over as an entire character. Voice alone in a film can be powerful, but play it with carefully selected images and you have a method of storytelling. Audiences have been known to be very responsive to this practice, because it allows them to gather more information about events happening in the film as well get in the character’s mind. Johansson’s Samantha is neurotic, yet very human and lifelike. Samantha gives Twombly the companionship he is so desperately seeking, but the problem is she isn’t there.
Twombly does have friends in shape of Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams) a married couple that set him up on a Blind Date with a woman (Olivia Wilde) that goes bad. Its not for lack of trying on Twombly’s part, its just when two don’t exactly click or have anything really in common, chances are its not going to work out.
Joaquin Phoenix who always chooses interesting films gives a great performance, yet its very reminiscent of Freddie Quell, Phoenix’s character from Paul Thomas Anderson’s The master. Twombly like Quell seems to be looking for something, this time its women instead of something to believe in. Phoenix has certainly had better roles in the past. It makes one wonder why he would choose these parts that feature little change, if any change by the end of the film.
Her has won best original screenplay at the Golden Globes as of late, but I certainly question as to why. The film maybe high strong with performances, but the plot and overall story-arc is nothing new. We are given the same old man and machine relationship. As entertaining as it is, its overdone and hardly ever done correctly. Her is terribly predictable and feels like it drags on to an ending that is neither surprising, nor really inspirational. The film will probably go on to be nominated for a few Oscars, but I do not recommend rushing out to see it. It’s a different take on old story, but this would make for one hell of a rental.