Review: ‘Her’ 2013


Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jones

Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Scarlet Johansson, Amy Adams

Lost In The Uncanny Valley.

The premise of ‘Her’ a man in the not-so-distant-future falling in love with his OS (operating system), basically an AI version of Siri, sounds like a glib lame movie gimmick of train-wreck proportions. The genius of ‘Her’ is that in someone else’s hands so many things could easily go wrong but in the hands of Spike Jones nothing does. The film is nothing short of a breathtakingly original masterpiece.

Now the word original in describing films has become a cliché. It has been overused to describe so many undeserving films that it has lost its true meaning to the point where it is irritating to read considering the power the word truly seeks to convey. Art should, in the words of Shakespeare, ‘hold a mirror to nature; show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image’. Good to excellent films reflect mirrored truths about our world and ourselves. However in my opinion for a film to reach the level of greatness this isn’t enough. As my favourite literary critic Harold Bloom argues: for a work of art to be truly great originality in the sense of strangeness is the quality more than any other that makes a work great. Bloom uses the word original in its true sense by linking it with strangeness. It is this original strangeness that we can either never quite come to terms with or it becomes such a given that we are ‘blinded to its idiosyncrasies’.

Her is a truly great film because it is both truthful and original. Truthful in the sense that it holds a mirror to nature showing us what it means to be human, to love, to lose and original in the Bloomian sense of strangeness. This strangeness results in an unsettling feeling of the uncanny permeating the film for the entire ride, its highs and lows. The uncanny is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar. Ironically this concept is used to describe the notion of the ‘uncanny valley’ in robotics, which is the region in a graph of negative emotional response towards robots/AI that seem almost human. The ‘uncanny valley’ betrays a truth of human nature, that we are profoundly unsettled by too human-like non-human entities, the premise of countless Scfi films.

The OS system that Joaquin Pheonix’s sensitive character ‘Theodore Twombly’ downloads called ‘Samantha’, played by Scarlet Johansson, is in almost everyway a human. She thinks, dreams, has emotions but doesn’t have any memories. Cleverly the film never shows us an anthropomorphic ‘Samantha’, she remains a beautiful, emotional voice that slowly seduces us. Lonely Theodore is a man who writes personal love letters for other people who depressed due to an impending divorce from his ex-wife. In many ways in this technological future Theodore acts more like a machine than the outsourced human emotion of Samantha. Her is a love story as Theodore slowly falls in love with Samantha. It celebrates strangeness and insanity with lines from a brilliantly acerbic screenplay like ‘love is a form of socially acceptable insanity’ and ‘anybody who loves is a freak’.

Beyond being a wistful love story illuminating what it means to be human, Her is a hilarious surrealist deadpan comedy and a biting social critique on the technological brave new world of isolated anonymous disconnected individuals that we are fast living into. The best films about the future merely extrapolate the present and Her captures the zeitgeist of the present. As the world becomes more intelligent and clinical ‘Her’ is a dramatic call for craziness and love. As our needs and wants are ever more easily met the crazy red blooded call of ‘I love you’ seems to echo louder in our shiny cold new world.

A+     ****     10/10

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