Film review: Spike Jonze's futuristic 'Her' is intellectually engaging

Yvonne Teh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 6:16pm

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Director: Spike Jonze
Category: IIB

Rating: 4/5


As the end credits rolled at a screening of Spike Jonze's Her, I heard a viewer tell her friend that the film was "very boring". I could not disagree more with her assessment.

Granted, its pace may be more like that of an art-house offering than a commercial movie. Also, the protagonist dominates the proceedings to such an extent that some may tire of looking at his visage.

But this imaginative relationship movie, set in a near future where Los Angeles visually resembles Shanghai more than it does the present-day City of Angels, has intriguing elements, and some poignant plot developments that threaten to tear at your heart. Her centres on professional letter writer Theodore Twombly (a moustachioed Joaquin Phoenix, utilising an acting style that's vastly more low-key than in, say, Gladiator or The Master). A quiet man who makes a living composing personal epistles for others by dictating his words to a keyboard-less computer, he acquires a new, innovative operating system; one that possesses a warm female voice (courtesy of Scarlett Johansson), claims to have "a consciousness", and names itself Samantha.

With few friends, and a marriage that has fallen apart, Theodore spends far more time talking to Samantha than his fellow humans, including his best friend Amy (Amy Adams).

With the device that houses Samantha constantly near him, or even on him, he starts to have long, intimate conversations with "her" that go way too far. From there, it's a slippery slope, and Theodore starts to wonder if he's embarked on a relationship, and even fallen in love. People react in various ways to Theodore's increased sense of connection to the disembodied Samantha. For some, it's understandable and romantic. For others, it's sad or creepy, or both. And it's a measure of Her's intellectual and psychological complexity that all these emotions come across as valid.

Viewers may be tempted to close their eyes and just listen to the voiced dialogue, especially when it emanates from Scarlett Johansson (who proves here that she's far more than just an attractive body and face).

But doing so would result in them missing a lot; we can relate to the many small background details of the world Theodore inhabits, but they are still novel.

Spike Jonze's screenplay (which won best original screenplay at the Oscars) is intelligent and quirky. But what really distinguishes Her is his direction, and the inventive visual touches he, and the work's production team, have created.

Filled with evocative imagery, the movie lingers in the memory, and may even infiltrate your dreams.


Her opens on March 13