I first discovered this film through one of those ‘100 films to watch before you die’ posters that my friend got me for my birthday. I vaguely knew Spike Jonze had directed Being John Malkovich which I had enjoyed so I kept an eye out for this film on Netflix and Amazon. I probably waited several years to see if it would pop up on one of those streaming services but it never did (still hasn’t!). Eventually, I bit the bullet and bought the DVD and a couple hours later I’d watched one of my favourite films of all time.
I remember finishing the film and feeling annoyed with myself that it had taken me so long to discover it. It was only made in 2013 and despite all the big names attached to the project, I’d barely heard of it. What still bothers me is that if my friend hadn’t got me a film poster and I hadn’t bought the DVD then I still wouldn’t have seen it to this day. That’s the reason I’m writing this article. I don’t want people to miss out on this terrific film. Like any hidden gem, once you find it, you’re all the better for it.
What’s Her About?
Set in an advanced technological world, soon to be divorced Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with a recently developed, artificially intelligent operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) who is designed to evolve based on her experiences.
The 3 Main Reasons to Watch Her
1. Joaquin Phoenix & Scarlett Johansson’s Performances
If this film was released today in 2021, everyone would hear about it. Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Amy Adams (Arrival), Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) – it’s a star-studded lineup that would be incredibly marketable given these actors’ success, particularly in the superhero genre. Yet, the name value is not the reason you should watch this film; it’s the wonderful acting by Phoenix and Johansson.
Phoenix plays the protagonist Theodore Twombly, an introverted, sensitive guy who writes personal special occasion cards for a living. The role is a pleasant change from the sociopathic characters that we are used to seeing Phoenix play in films such as Joker and You Were Never Really Here. The sweetness and earnestness that he injects into the mild mannered Theodore makes the character extremely amicable and has you rooting for him from start to finish. Being at the centre of the narrative, Phoenix wonderfully holds the viewer’s attention throughout.
Furthermore, even though she is a two-time Oscar nominee, I often feel like Scarlett Johansson’s acting abilities get overlooked, most likely due to her popularity in the Marvel franchise. It’s fair to say that her performance in this film is a showcase of her acting talent. Being the voice of the OS (operating system) Samantha, she never appears on screen and yet is able to bring life to a character that is essentially a phone. Her soft yet expressive voice works in perfect harmony with her character who is both humorous and curious about the world. Samantha is understandably naïve to the unwritten social rules of human life making it difficult for her to be herself as well as fit in with humans and Johansson perfectly captures the various inner conflicts of the character through the nuances in her voice acting.
2. The Futuristic World
If the popularity of Black Mirror has taught us anything, it’s that advanced technological worlds are always pretty entertaining. To the viewer, it’s like exploring an alternate reality: it’s the question of ‘what if we lived in a world like this?’ However, whereas the overwhelming majority of stories set in these bleak, futuristic worlds tend to be cautionary tales of technology going to far, Her is the complete opposite. The technology is never in your face and merely compliments the story. Throughout the film, we experience the various ways in which technology has changed people’s lives. From an ahead of its time, voice call version of Tinder to a 3D, fully interactive video game with cute but sweary characters, the film never wastes a moment to make you laugh in its hypothetical world.
Moreover, unlike the majority of AI films that take place in a grey, concrete setting, Her is full of gorgeous scenery and bright colours. Having been filmed in the city of Shanghai, Spike Jonze doesn’t waste the impressive architecture and skyline, complementing them with bright coloured neon lights and vibrant outfits of the city dwellers to create a warm and embracing aesthetic fit for the love story. The visuals in this film are beautiful and the talented Jonze goes the extra step by using them as visual metaphors for the story and characters. For anyone that enjoys pretty settings and appreciates good filmmaking, this film satisfies both.
3. The Story
Above all else, the main reason you should watch this film is for the story. There’s a reason the script won the Oscar for ‘best writing, original screenplay’ in 2014. The film revolves around the romance between Theodore and Samantha and explores the themes of love and what human connection means. Despite the romance being between a human and a ‘computer,’ ironically, it is one of the most genuine, human love stories you will see. This isn’t one of those love stories where the guy walks into a bar, locks eyes with the pretty woman across the room and they end up shagging and realising that it was love at first sight. The romance and attraction between Theodore and Samantha is organic. It develops through conversations and joyful moments spent with one another the same way it does for most people. The ability to relate to the characters and plot is what sets this film apart. You can empathise with the feelings that Theodore and Samantha have for one another through the highs and lows of their relationship because they feel personal and real.
Likewise, the human/AI combination becomes an insightful and creative metaphor for two people who are inherently different. The film explores in great depth how being with someone different from yourself can help you grow, make you experience new things, and discover things about yourself that you didn’t realise you were capable of. In tandem with that, the film looks at the flip side to this and how being with someone who’s different with contrasting ambitions in life can lead to a disconnect and a breakdown in communication. There are so many small details in this film that can resonate massively with a viewer. In fact, it’s the greatest thing about this film. You can watch it over and over and take away something new each time. That is the beauty of this insightful piece of art.
Get your hands on this film and watch it. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Written by Théo Tomas-Brown
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