I still remember my first experience seeing Her. It was about a week after purchasing it, on a cloudy and breezy morning. I came into the film with high expectations that were immediately met, leaving a permanent emotional mark on me long before the film reached its final act. The film spoke about life, love and its relationship with society and technology in such a way that felt genuinely tender but also dark, despite the film’s light sepia tone and bright photography. The film manages to find the beauty of something new, while also showing the dire aspects of it that we never expected early on. This made me both excited and frightened for what would come ahead of me, and I guess all I could truly hope is that I am able to dust myself off and climb back up when things have fallen to their lowest.
I did not know why I came back to this film now, as my plans on seeing this again was going to be during a Spike Jonze marathon; in order for me to find a sense growth to the director and how that has impacted his abilities as a filmmaker. Before deciding to see this film, I was watching Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy; and something about it, possibly due to its similar visual look in its photography, caused a spark in my mind, creating cravings that I cannot just simply ignore. Watching this film at a time when my mind and body is hungering for it, allows my experience to actually be more rewarding and precious. I cannot remember the last time a film has swayed both my heart and my mind, and does so only in a matter of two hours and a bit, of dialogue based sequences.
Love is a universal concept. It is an element that must be present in one’s life in order for it to be fulfilling. Love comes in multiple forms and it can be found even in the tiniest portions of our daily life. I am looking at Letterboxd, and that is something I love; I am looking at my family, which is another that I love; I look at photos of previous crushes, love is certainly there. All of these are completely different things that mean so much to me in a different way, but is all connected by the universal emotion of love. Love is a feeling that should not be confined by the rules of our society or peers; in whatever way it should manifest, it must be treasured as if it is the only thing in your life that truly wakes you up with a smile and a warm feeling inside, then by all means dive in and block out those that says otherwise. Spike Jonze’s Her handles love in such a tender and passionate way; accurately reflecting the powerful experience when one falls head over heels. The film’s plot may seem ludicrous to some, but the film was never about the story, but rather the emotional experience. Jonze navigates the audience’s hearts and minds to the expression of love, the stages that one go through when in a relationship; and for him to do that, one must let go of their own scepticism and hesitance, and simply trust him.
The primary focus of the film is to demonstrate the journey of love, but Her manages to speak beyond that; it also spoke about the direction of our society, giving the audience of a world that is very familiar but evolved just enough that we find inspiring and intriguing things. Jonze has created a world that we could both be excited and anxious about; introducing us to the infinite and ambitious possibilities of technology, interacting with life in a different but fascinating way. Though Jonze have given Her a bubbly and hopeful atmosphere, between the cracks we are able to find a sense of melancholy and isolation. We primarily follow the film’s protagonist, Theodore, and experience his journey through this changing world, but if we look hard enough and notice, Jonze shows us random bystanders walking around in this world, showing emotions similar to what Theodore has went through; it is both endearing and heartbreaking to watch as we can see the inhabitants of this world becoming further and further apart from one another, seeking refuge for company and intimacy to something inherently beyond us; Jonze achieves this sense of isolation through multiple backdrops of skylines and towering figures standing alone from one another. I do, however, agree with the idea of following where the heart goes, and doing what it is that would ensure happiness; I am just sad to see that humanity have failed to hold onto each other after all these years, I cannot blame on technology for doing this to us, as it is not their fault. It is our fault as humans to have not found the strength and forgiveness to survive such an evolving world. Jonze ends the film with an idea that states we must be resilient in order to keep “living”, and in order to achieve that, the first step is to search and reconnect the elements of our lives that we have lost over the years. I think it was this sense of optimism and hope that genuinely had me falling in love with this film, as I have always had on the back of my mind, the idea that humans would crumble and fall apart, hence becoming less and less of what made us inherently human, but Jonze does not see it that way and watching the way he concluded this film, lit a fire in me and provided me with something I never thought I had, hope.
There was something about Her that felt intrinsically personal and intimate, and I believe it has something to do with Jonze’s personal life. Her seems to draw a lot of connections with the director’s personal life, especially in regarding to the film’s protagonist. It could be argued that Jonze’s Her is a response to his ex-wife’s, Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation. Both films seem to draw similar themes and tone, particularly on isolation. Her gives us a man who has been a victim of isolation through the progression of the world around him, causing fractures to the human relationships that he once had; while Coppola’s Lost in Translation deals with isolation in a more grounded way, relating more to one’s stage in life and finding themselves to an environment that is foreign and intimidating. Both films speak about the need for companionship to hurdle the personal struggles of their lives; Theodore finds it in Samantha, while Charlotte finds it in Bob. There is an autobiographical feel to Her’s storytelling, acting as a mirror to show the audience, and maybe Sofia, the heartache and loneliness that he has went through after the divorce and that he still lies awake at night thinking about her. It is very bold for a filmmaker to be achingly deep and executing its emotions in such a genuine way, not caring whether or not he has shown too much of himself to the audience. All filmmakers at a point would want to create a personal film, to purge out the bottled feelings and ideas running inside them and deliver it into a medium that hopefully everyone could understand; they do not care for the box office returns of the film or whether or not it would even win any awards. It is simply released in order to achieve creative and emotional relief.
Recently, I have seen Interstellar, which featured breathtakingly beautiful photography from Hoyte van Hoytema; displaying the cosmos in such a grand and majestic way. I may not have praised the film as much as everyone else did, and a lot of that is due to its lacklustre script, but if there was one thing positive I took home from that experience, it was Hoytema’s cinematography. This is a person who understands beauty and creating so in respect of the director’s vision. Take a look at his work in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where the visual design is simplistic and low-key, yet there is this dark and mysterious beauty lurking in its shots, helping to shape the tone and direction that Alfredson was going for; the same goes for David O. Russell’s The Fighter, succeeding in shaping that stylish documentarian feel to its photography, elevating the human drama that drives the story and its characters. Her features a sepia toned warmth to its photography, capturing the cuddly and tender feeling of love in its atmosphere, while also conveying the idea of a bright and hopeful future. During the night scenes, however, it features a much colder and icy atmosphere, granted not much, to capture the film’s melancholy, alienation and loneliness. The film is certainly stylish, but it never crosses to the point of being over style than substance; as Jonze clearly wanted this to be an emotionally empathetic and impacting film.
The film’s piano based score, composed and performed by Arcade Fire, was like breathing in beautiful and pure air; it was as if I was taking in something that was essential to sustain life. The film’s score was consistently effective in its ability to create such gentleness and devotion, that I found myself emotionally disarmed: just take a listen to Song on the Beach, it features such grace and sweetness, and delivered so in such a way that genuinely earns its emotions. The same goes for The Moon Song, packing a similar effect but the added lyrics, allowed the characters to demonstrate further dimensions of their relationship, emphasising the chemistry to not only between the characters but also between the two leading cast members. I believe without Arcade Fire’s contribution to fill the film’s needed sentimental atmosphere and to support Hoytema’s sweet visual look, Her would not have been the emotional ride that it is.
Finally, the final piece that makes this beautiful masterpiece is Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Theodore. As I have stated before, Theodore is a slightly tweaked version of Jonze himself, and Phoenix provides a strong and effective effort of meeting the demands that is required to shape this role. There is so much vulnerability to his performance here, that it is hard to not shed a tear. Though some might consider Jonze’s direction and phoenix’s performance to be manipulative, and I can certainly understand that, but I simply do not care, as I wanted to be manipulated; I have let myself go and placed complete trust in the crew behind the film, to take me to places even to the deepest and darkest places of my heart. If I ever had a chance to meet Phoenix, the first thing I would do is most likely fall and weep, thanking him for affecting me so deeply in this film; and hopefully if he does not think I am a complete nutbag, we could go on and chat about other things. Another beautiful performance was Scarlett Johansson, who in my opinion is one of the greatest actresses of our generation. This is a person who could take in any role and make it her own, giving it a sense of dignity. In Johansson’s performance, she achieved something that would have been proven difficult by other actresses, which was to make this artificial intelligence come alive, something that starts off empty but full of personality and eventually over time evolves as the relationship grows, similar to how a person would feel and react. There were many instances during the film, where I would be watching a conversation between Theodore and Samantha, and a mental image of Samantha would appear, like as if she was actually a living and physical organism having this conversation with him, face to face; the credit to that certainly goes to Johansson, who achieves to create a character with only her voice. What was more impressive was that her voice was recorded during post-production because Samantha Morton was initially cast as the operating system, but Jonze felt it would have worked much better with another actress; ergo Johansson was not actually present during filming of the scenes, and yet she still managed to capture that effective chemistry that makes Theodore and Samantha’s relationship beautiful.
Is there any other film out there that captures love as perfectly as Her? So far the only thing that rivals this is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, which in my opinion plays off as a companion piece given the history between the two directors. I cannot wait until its two years into the future and Her would finally be seen and ranked as one of the greatest American films of all time.