Monday, January 13, 2014

HER 1/13/14

 We are in the future - a time when technology rules every aspect of our lives, and Director Spike Jonze’s HER catapults that idea to what some might consider an absurd place, but makes perfect sense when we consider our ever increasing umbilical ties to the computer in organizing and communicating with friends and strangers in our lives. This movie is billed as a comedy, but in essence it is a poetic story of searching for human contact with the very instrument that we rely on to contact other humans.

Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who keeps getting better and better, transforms himself into Theordore Twombly, a broken hearted reclusive man in the midst of a divorce, ironically working at a job as a “surrogate” love-letter writer, living a life of mournful resignation and withdrawal – coming home to an antiseptic apartment, playing video games and having the occasional Internet sex with strangers in the kooky way things are done in this “advanced “world; a universe that is not too different from the one we live in today, but the technological innovations are more all-encompassing.

The need to love and be loved, the need to listen and to be heard, the need to laugh and experience joy – face to face with another flesh and blood person – those are the existential issues posed in HER. Can a computer fulfill those needs? Can the disembodied voice, even that of the husky, resonant, sweet-toned Operating System Speaker Samantha  (articulated by Scarlett Johansson) whose electronic persona takes on a life of its own, programmed to be both empathetic and intuitive, can SHE become the idealized companion that Theodore dreams of? Can an “inter-species” relationship with a machine give us the emotional profundity and togetherness that we ache for in contrast to real, corporeal interactions which often involve compromise, and where selfishness over selflessness is often the norm.

The movie witnesses other couples – one being a neighbor played by Amy Adams (a lovely actor who chameleon-like is always a surprise) trying to contain the bursting seams of her own marriage. More and more of the characters in HER are seeking adequate substitutes for traditional alliances and Operating System “romances”  - whose basic nature is onanistic - might be a solution. Perhaps making love to oneself is the ultimate aphrodisiac?

This film felt fresh and original, like the winds of change transporting the way we interact with one another in our determined attempt to stave off isolation and find intimacy. Nowadays we spend less and less time on the phone - instead we text; we meet our friends in chat and hangout rooms; we have the increasing capacity to have a “fulfilling” virtual life - one that is populated with avatars and perpetuated by illusion. I was fascinated by the issues raised in HER, charmed by the enchanting magic of Samantha and Theodore’s “software system” courtship – no matter how much a chimera – at least it was “shared.”

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