Film Comment’s Essential Cinema: “Her”

Posted by Erik Luers on 12.20.2013

If your OS has yet to alert you, Spike Jonze's highly anticipated new film, Her, is being released in theaters today in New York and Los Angeles to much advanced buzz and positive word of mouth. The Closing Night selection at the 51st New York Film Festival (where it had its World Premiere), Her marks Spike Jonze's first film since letting a mild rumpus start with Where The Wild Things Are four years earlier. Chosen as one this year's 15 Essential Cinema films in the November/December issue of Film Comment, Her is a film ripe for interpretation and thoughtful film criticism.

Max Nelson was given the task of tackling the film's weighty themes and narrative structure.

Her is the most universal and most topical of Jonze’s films so far. Its premise—a lonely, recently separated man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) slowly falls in love with his artificially intelligent computer operating system (voiced chattily, breathily, and in no way artificially by Scarlett Johansson)—invites all kinds of broad, zeitgeisty pronouncements about 21st-Century Man’s Relationship to Technology (which Jonze, admittedly, plays up). But Her turns out to be something closer to the bone: a scary, sobering parable about the psychological toll of loneliness.

If you're an avid reader of Film Comment's website (and if you're not, you really should be), you may have noticed that their weekly reviewer, Jonathan Romney, had some words to say about the film as well.

Photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema, designed by K.K. Barrett in a disarming marshmallow palette (inspired by the colors of Jamba Juice smoothie bars) and sonically shot through with the subliminal hum of a super-cushioned world, the film evokes the most convincing same-but-different future city since the sketchily glimpsed one in Soderbergh’s Solaris. What’s so entrancing about Her, however, is that it doesn’t offer a Terrible Warning—we’re far too used to them—but expresses its future vision as a seductive comic conceit. This elegant, moving entertainment is richer and more adult than you might have expected Spike Jonze to come up with (it’s his first solo script credit). It’s the perfect date movie to take your iPhone to, or even a living person if you’re that way inclined.

In their Short Takes section, Sarah Mankoff uses a limited word count to discuss the central relationship at the heart of the story.

What follows is a relationship drama that’s complicated, meaty, and challenging in its implications. Theodore and Samantha’s problems are normal—affections don’t always align, or the two project too much onto each other—and singular: for instance, the fact that Samantha has no physical body. When Rooney Mara makes a sharp appearance as Theo’s ex-wife, her incredulousness at his inability to date a real woman is both a relief and off base. Her is told from Theo’s perspective, and all he can ever really know about Samantha is that she’s infinite—and when it comes to another person, what’s more real than that?

Excited for Her? Love end-of-the-year lists? Film Comment has you covered. Come back Monday for another Essential Cinema selection about a certain state, a lottery ticket and a father-son road trip.

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