May 20, 2014
You’ll Fall In Love With Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ But Does She Really Love You Back?
[We’re republishing our Her review since the movie is FINALLY open in the rest of the United States that are not L.A.]
It is not spoiling anything to tell you Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his laptop in Spike Jonze’s Her. In a near-future (and epically white) Los Angeles where there are no poor people and a person who works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com can live in a serene, spacious, and elegant skyscraper with near-360-degree views, the question is not “will you fall in love with your laptop” — of course you will — but “does she really love you back.”
We’ve played with these questions before, in pretty much every sci-fi movie ever made, but also in AI (which would have been a perfect illumination of hope and faith if they hadn’t added in the infuriating final scene, which was the cheapest, grimmest excuse for mother love in any possible past, present or future) and in Lars & the Real Girl. There of course we had a body without sentience; here we have consciousness without a corpse. Does she love you? Is it real? Shouldn’t we feel sad for these losers, in love with their warming, nourishing symbs instead of taking a chance with a human, where what you love, you might lose?
Her is not so much “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” (There is nothing dystopic in this future; the sentient operating systems do not go Skynet; even LA’s transportation system is good.) We come quickly to accept Her as “real.” So, hilariously, do all Phoenix’s coworkers and friends. Phoenix works up the courage to say he’s “dating” his operating system, and there is no backlash, no raised eyebrow. Instead everyone’s like “huh, cool, let’s double date in Catalina!” (Her is laugh-out-loud funny in the oddest places. It’s rhythm is gentle; it unfolds slowly, letting you keep up with all its questions and permutations, but it never, ever feels slow. Instead, it feels luxurious, a beautiful stretch for your beautiful mind. And also hilarious.)
Phoenix is wonderful, as good as he was in Walk the Line but without the showy alcoholism to play up. Instead, we spend a lot of time with his sad, lonely face, slowly falling in love and lighting up from within. And so is Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha, the operating system who named herself. Even without a body, she has agency. (Until the end credits, I was convinced Samantha was voiced by Rashida Jones. Her warmth and perkiness, her vulnerability, her humor: I would not have expected such a performance from Johannson. Maybe without the boobs it’s easier to focus on what a good actor she is?)
In AI, Haley Joel Osment was programmed to love his mother. In Lars & the Real Girl, the doll had no choice in the matter at all. We know in Her that her love is real as soon as she has the power, and the choice, to take it away.