Contrary to popular belief, I don’t only watch horror movies. Sure, dudes in masks wielding machetes who chop up promiscuous teenagers tickles my fancy some, but every now and again it’s nice to step out of the coffin and experience something a bit different. While I’d definitely call myself a fan of sci-fi, I feel similar about that genre as I do most comedies. I think a movie in the genre needs to be executed impeccably if it’s going to stand solely on the tropes and stylings of genre. A prime example in the comedy genre would be Airplane, a movie that spends literally every frame setting up or paying off on a joke, and every joke sticks its landing perfectly. It doesn’t need compelling characters, narrative, or conflict because the movie can stand alone on the strength of its jokes. My favorite sci-fi movies and shows definitely cannot stand on how “sci-fi” they are. They need something else to synergize with the sci-fi setting. Take Robocop for instance. Unarguably the greatest movie ever made, its political and social satire works with the sci-fi setting, not just along side it. Their power together makes it a great movie. Battlestar Galactica is a political thriller/ drama that just so happens to take place in space and involves evil robots trying to eradicate humanity. The sci-fi (spaceships, faster than light travel, Cylons) does not get people watching it episode in, episode out. The fleshed out characters, their relationships, their struggles and flaws, and how they overcome those struggles and flaws make the show worth watching. For me, sci-fi needs a human element to grasp on to in order to elevate it to something really worth thinking about. Good sci-fi asks questions and pokes holes in convention. A movie that fits this description to a tee, is Her.
Her is Spike Jonze’s fourth feature length film about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man going through a divorce who begins a relationship with Samantha, an artificial intelligence operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It sounds like a quirky indie drama, and while it does fall into a couple of the traps of a schlubby-guy-meets-manic-pixie-dream-girl movie, it deftly soars above a majority of the clichés and keeps you on your toes and guessing what will happen next. Spike Jonze is known for making quirky and weird movies, but Her is definitely an accessible film (unlike the last movie I saw starring Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin). I know I’m late to the party for Her, but understandably I was a little overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of praise this movie had going for it when it came out. It seemed almost too hyped. It was winning every award ever, and nothing but perfect or near perfect reviews came spilling out after its release. At the time it felt like manufactured hype or Oscarbait, but now that I’ve watched it, I can safely say…
It was alright.
Okay, it was actually pretty great. Does it live up to the hype? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide after you watch the movie. Hype culture is a discussion for another time. Her is an incredibly well made movie. It looks amazing, partly due to the excellent cinematography, and partly due to the production design of the whole thing. Her is set in Los Angeles in the not-so-distant future so while things look similar, there is also some more subtle future stylings thrown into the mix. The attention to detail in all of the sets and costumes was fantastic, giving everything a look that I could actually see happening (or at least something similar in style) in the near future. Clothes and fashion styles had a retro vibe to them, but were cleaned up to have the sleek feel of an advanced future. Nothing feels really out of place, Jonze immerses you in this world immediately and holds you there. Nothing is outlandish enough to snap you out of it. There are no matter replicators or flying cars. Everything is grounded in realism and feels like a living, breathing world.
I actually found myself playing catch-up writing my notes while I was watching this movie. I would get so wrapped up in everything and eventually realize I hadn’t written anything down in twenty minutes or so. And while the believable world is what first sucks you into this movie, it’s the characters and story that keeps you there. Her is legitimately moving. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer, but doesn’t suffer from devolving into Oscarbait. There are no big dramatic speeches about overcoming adversity by an A-list celebrity playing a dead famous person set to a Hans Zimmer score. It’s just about an average guy with average friends who is trying to get over a bad past relationship. While it may sound like an oddball plot, a guy falling in love with an operating system, the movie works really well as an analogue for lots of different aspects of the exploration of one’s self. I know that sounds like hippy-dippy bullshit coming from a guy who recently watched and enjoyed Piranha 3DD, but there are themes of exploring and accepting your and others’ sexualities, needs, and lifestyles sprinkled all throughout this film. The movie is at its core, about relationships and growing. We see Theo grow and become a better person as the film goes on, whether it is with Samantha, his ex-wife, or his close friends. Her makes sure to focus on telling you that real relationships are important to grow and evolve as a person. They help you get over past mistakes, help smooth out and heal old scars, and help prepare you for your future. Whether you share those experiences with another human or a sophisticated AI, is there really any difference?
Jonze shows shows a lot in his shots. Majority of exterior shots show people walking the streets by themselves, talking into their phones (or whatever the equivalent handheld device is in this world). Something like this can be taken two ways. Possibly more, but these are the two most apparent to me after watching this movie.
- Technology is separating us from each other, creating a barrier where there was none before, and taking away a human element from something as simple as a conversation.
- Technology connects us with each other, creating a network where there was none before, and now allows humans to create relationships with others that they normally wouldn’t be able to.
In my eyes, this movie tackles a version of the internet-friends-aren’t-real-friends debate, and that’s just in the background of shots where our main character is walking down the street or riding the subway. Her covers much, much more social and philosophical ground than what I’ve been rambling on about for a thousand words, all in an easily digestible two hours. It never comes across as preachy, forced or cliché, but feels incredibly relevant to everything going on around us today.
My final verdict on Her: go see this movie. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you re-evaluate your entire life. Alright, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Her is a great sci-fi movie. Not because of laser beams and twin ion engines, but because it has something to say. Lots of things to say, in fact, and it states them clearly and concisely for the audience, letting us think about it and formulate our own opinions afterwards. This is a smart movie for normal people. It’s one of the best movies to come out of 2013, and has definitely become a new favorite for me. Check it out if you can.