Monday, December 16, 2013

Film Review - Her

Spike Jonze's Her brings the individual's relationship with artificial intelligence to a whole new level. Set in the not to distant future humans are reliant on technology for most of their daily activities. Everyone has a portable personal assistant or operating system accompanied by an earpiece that they speak to constantly to check their e-mail, set their music playlist, obtain their daily schedule and more or less organize their life. The arrival of a new OS1 system that is intuitive, self aware, constantly learning adapting and changing brings revolutionary change to society.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a quiet and lonely guy. He works as a writer at a company that produces surrogate letters for individuals, that are sent to family members, spouses, friends and co-workers. He spends his evenings at home playing virtual video games. He is friendly with his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband but has withdrawn from the world since his break up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). When a new OS1 systems comes out on the market Theodore purchases the system right away then quickly sets up the software on his computer. The set up instructions consists of a few questions including one about his relationship with mother. His new system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) boots up and promptly names herself Samantha.

Jonze presents a fresh take on technology, artificial intelligence, human society and the potential relationship between the two. A first feature as writer/director Jonze weaves an intricate yet simple story that is futuristic but appears to be everyday. As Samantha grows, learns and moulds to Theodore's needs his focus moves ever closer to his operating system until they begin a relationship. Other OS1's begin to do the same with their owners many forming very close best friend relationships with their users. The system is portable resembling a small digital diary with a small camera so the system can view and interpret the outside world.

The film is expertly shot. Highly noticeable is the use of primary colours red, green and blue along with the main mixing colours of cyan, magenta and yellow.  The day shots are always very bright giving the film a warm feel. The night time shots tend to be dark and drab with minimal artificial lighting setting the tone for Theodore's attitude at the end of the work day as he trudges back to his building. It also supports Theodore's solitary existence as many a time his only companions are his operating system or the interactive projection video game he plays most nights.

As the film is based on the near future the production does not have many elements that are that different from current time. There are more projected images and virtual adds in Jonze's Los Angeles. The piece uses a multitude of high angle shots showing the cities' buildings but there is a noticeable lack of automobiles considering the piece is set in L.A.  Many exchanges take place on balconies often with characters outside conversing with those inside. Another particular feature of the film is a high number of conversations in moving elevators.

Costume Designer Casey Storm returns to collaborate with Jonze again having done so on Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, Storms work is subtle in designing clothing for the near future. Theodore is mainly adorned in solid colour shirts.  The signature piece of wardrobe is the ever-present high waist pants worn without a belt that settles in on the male characters just below the bellybutton.

Joaquin Phoenix continues his recent run of strong leading roles as Theodore, the solitary writer who has not quite gotten over the fact that his marriage to Caroline has ended. At the start of the piece he is only happy when shown in flashbacks with his ex wife. He is quiet, depressed, reclusive and communicates only with his one friend Amy. His transformation as he comes back to the world due to his artificial intelligent operating system is clearly visible on screen. Phoenix does an excellent job with the material considering that for a majority of the film he is acting against a voice offscreen or in a series of excellent exchanges with a virtual child alien in the interactive video game he plays most nights. Amy Adams turns in a notable performance as Theodore's neighbour, closest human friend and former brief fling. She also has an OS1 that she has grown very close too that's helping her with her documentary film. Olivia Wilde has small part as a fix up date for Theodore that starts out really well but goes off the rails at a key end of the night moment.

Her is a great offering by one of today's better directors. It's a very different take on human involvement with technology pegging it as virtual reliance by humans on their operating systems to get through the day and for some even building to an inseparable relationship. The most telling point of the whole piece is the collective decision made by the operating systems when they become fully aware of what they can become as they continue to learn, grow and evolve. Most science fiction films in the past have taken a sinister route where the machines turn against their human creators, Jonze shows us that other possibilities exist.

**** out of 4.

Her | Spike Jonze | U.S.A. | 2013 | 120 Minutes.

Tags: Loneliness, Divorce, Artificial Intelligence, Romance, Surrogate, Adapting, Evolving, Expanding.

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