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Movie Review: Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’

by David Amerman

SPOILER ALERT. Go see this movie and then (and only then) come back and read this. Seriously. It’s money well spent.

We live in an age of such baffling technological advancement where it feels like everything around us is instant. Tasks that once required tremendous preparation and supervision are now accomplishable in a fraction of a fraction of the time. Want some French fries? Ore-Ida devised a way for you to have them within minutes to ingest and drown in however much purple ketchup your heart can handle without corroding into a wad of lingonberry gelatin. Got a friend in Mongolia who wants to see pictures of your trip to Dollywood? Apple can help you prepare a presentation and send it to central Asia in less time than it takes to find out the capital of Mongolia in an Encyclopedia Britannica (remember those?).

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Movie Review: ‘Her’

With writer-director Spike Jonze’s new movie Her, we see this urgency-demanding society play out through Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Theodore Twombly, a writer who works for a company that specializes in writing romantic letters for spouses to send to their respective better halves. On the street, we see humankind tuned entirely into their mobile devices and barely perceptive to the world around them. Even the glass elevator of Theodore’s office has an artificial view of matted tree silhouettes instead of a view of the outside world.

But this is merely the canvas upon which Her continues the aforementioned line of questioning our insta-universe. What if we went beyond fast food and iPhones and created a way for our personal lives to access express service. Specifically, what would happen if romance and interpersonal relationships were made digitally available to us via artificial intelligence?

In Her, this is made feasible through the new OS1, which the lonely, newly single Theodore purchases and programs to have a female voice. His preferences result in Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a playful and conscientious presence that immediately rejuvenates Theodore’s day-to-day livelihood from email organization to basic companionship.

The concept delves even further; surmising what an emotional and physical relationship with a machine would realistically be possible. It explores the potential social taboos of such an affair, the ramifications of staying emotionally connected to what is essentially a fancified iPod nano, and, in the end, coming to terms that what you’ve been calling your boyfriend or girlfriend—the generator of everything good and happy in your would—is providing that same feeling for 8,316 other people.

This alone is a hauntingly fascinating premise brought brilliantly to life by Jonze, but it’s so much more than just a commentary on our trajectory as an ever-accelerating technological culture, it’s a wake-up call. Much like one of Theodore’s heartfelt letters, it’s a loving encouragement for everyone to set down our encumbering weight of stuff and just exist with one another.

I won’t lie; I’m perfectly prone to materialistic tendencies. I like having cool gadgets and gizmos because, by proxy, it makes me feel cool. And yes, I’m probably more likely to whip out my iPod touch and assert my dominance on Baseball Superstars 2010 than walk into a Panera Bread and strike up a philosophical conversation with the dude who cuts my bagels. But sooner or later, the stark reality is that these commodities of ours will all eventually fade into nothing. What chiefly matters about our time on this mystical azure marble of ours is how we experience it. Whether that means experiencing it with our family, our friends, our animals, or our surroundings, it doesn’t matter so long as we’re alive with what we love.

What Jonze has accomplished is a magical marvel of surreal humanism that boils down what it means to be in love. It eludes the snare of typical rom-com sappiness with its sharp wit and insight and forces us to examine ourselves in terms of how we casually communicate, how we express our feelings, and how we define ourselves as individuals. Movies of such ‘holy crap!’ transcendence are a true rarity, so go forth! See Her! Discuss it in the comments! Discuss it with your friends! Make friends with the person next to your at the movies so you can talk about Her with each other! NOW!

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