Film Review: 'Her'
Opened: 14 February 2014
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson (as the voice of Samantha)
Director: Spike Jonze
Producers: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay
Ever since Philip K Dick posed the question Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the book which eventually inspired the Ridley Scott classic masterpiece Blade Runner, literature and the visual arts have toyed and studied the possible outcomes of fully realised artificial intelligence (A.I.). Most of these stories do not end well for the people who interact with the A.I., usually ending in violence or even Armageddon (War Games, Terminator). With the dawning of smart phones and the emergence of hilariously divisive iPhone operating assistant Siri, director Spike Jonze brings his vision of a near future A.I. in this week's release Her. Unlike the relentless killing machines of the Terminator franchise or the power crazed extremism of Tron’s MCP, Her’s talking computers have been given a very human development cycle.
It is clear from the offset that Joaquin Phoenix’s sensitive bumbling human user Theodore Twombly and his new child like operating system Samantha (voiced adorably by Scarlett Johansson) are never a threat to humanity. Performances are faultless across the board and it is good to see Amy Adams return to a role she seems more comfortable in after American Hustle, The Academy Award nominators surely transfixed by her consistent plunging (non-existent) neck line to notice that performance was not to her usual high standard.
The light, airy and minimalist modernity of the visuals combined with gently contemplative philosophical dialogue make Her’s initial proposition very attractive and engrossing. The initial questions it poses are intriguing but as the film progresses they are mostly left unanswered and avoided, replaced instead by vacuous beginners’ psycho analysis disguised as sage self-help. ‘The past is a story we tell ourselves’ and other fortune cookie wisdom is handed out with svengali smugness but there is no voice to challenge these ‘profound’ epiphanies. 12 Years a Slave’s protagonist Solomon Northup would no doubt have something to say to the idiot telling him that his past is just a story he tells himself!
These musings do however come from Theodore himself who is the ideal foil for the premise of the movie, being a slightly timid soul damaged by a difficult divorce and weary of the expectations of another human relationship. From his point of view the film’s messages do make sense but do not offer us anything truly profound or challenging. Just as the film looks and feels like a successive string of phone network commercials so is Theodore their target market.
When broken down on paper the story is all but (actually) identical to 2001’s A.I. Artifical Intelligence, a film which reached much further into this subject but lacked the mainstream accessibility of Her’s topical narrative, clean visuals and unwarranted Oscar buzz. There is no doubt that most audiences will enjoy Her in one way or another, even forgiving the uneventful plot and unnecessarily over extended run time, which lags noticeably around the third act. Knowingly leaving each of its ponderings for us to dwell on and overcompensating on classy commercial visuals and excellent performances Her promises a lot more than it has to offer. As a study of how technology is affecting our lives right now, and where it may lead, the film has a few bullet points to add to the discussion but nothing that we cannot see with our own eyes everyday or that has already been explored cinematically with more depth.
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