Thursday, 16 January 2014

Her (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix has a meaningful relationship with his personal computer in Spike Jonze’s scifi arthouse take on Chobits

20 minutes into the future, software engineers invent the world’s first operating system that’s a unique, self-aware, and constantly evolving artificial intelligence. A lonely but brilliant writer (Joaquin Phoenix) installs the OS (the voice of Scarlett Johanssen) on his PC and proceeds to have a meaningful, intimate relationship with it. Is it because the OS is programmed to be a manager, friend, and counsellor to its human? How human can an AI be? How far can a relationship with a computer go before the illusion is broken? Where does that leave human relationships?

Part Pygmalion (if Pygmalion’s statue turned out far more intelligent and capable than the sculptor himself) and part otaku fantasy, Her isn’t as much a disguised Philo 101 course in the vein of The Matrix but rather Spike Jonze’s most accessible and sentimental film, an almost straightforward boy meets girl, will boy lose girl love story.

Much of the film consists of mid-range shots and close ups of Phoneix having conversations with the disembodied voice of the OS. While not exactly a radio play, the naturalistic performances by a very vulnerable Phoenix and his interaction with a warm and bubbly Johanssen’s provide a necessary emotional anchor to what might have been an alienating movie experience. It doesn’t hurt that DOP Hoyte van Hoytema provides hauntingly beautiful outdoor urban visuals that come close to up-ending Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Tree of Life.

And without you noticing, Spike Jonze’s script skilfully moves beyond its initial science fiction premise, past its romance genre, and ends up a humanistic meditation on the very human traits of alienation and loneliness that create the equally human need to reach out and be wanted, despite the very real possibility that meaningful interaction with an Other may well be impossible. This might well be the moment Jonze comes of age as a filmmaker in his own right.

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