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Movie Review: 'Her' (2013) Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson

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Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is letter writer #612 for the company “Beautifulhandwrittenletters.com.” He essentially spends his days crafting poetic, poignant, and personalized communications for other people’s relationships. His own previous romantic entanglement with now ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has ended, but she still haunts his daydreams. His current life is filled with loneliness and failed attempts to fill that void – with awkward phone sex chats that divulge peculiar depravities and one-sided satisfaction (for the other party).

While electronics shopping, Theodore purchases the new Element Software OS1, an operating system governed by a highly adaptive, extremely advanced artificial intelligence program. It names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and proceeds to become a nearly constant companion for Twombly. Growing through experiences, the computer program is not only capable of holding lengthy, reactive conversations with the user, but can also sense his mood and interact with him based on research and the examination and assembling of all of the data on his mainframe. Through the use of an earpiece, Theodore never has to fully unplug from Samantha.

The most advanced computers in the world are currently still unable to hold complex conversations with users, due to the sheer number of variables and knowledge that must be stored and understood to appropriately react to a particular, spontaneous comment. Anticipation and sarcasm is, understandably, utterly unpredictable – especially for a machine. Realizing that fact places the technological advancements in “Her” so far in the future that it all appears nearly impossible – even though the setting is designed to be somewhat contemporary. Samantha admits that she can think and fantasize about being a real person, spends her time reading and processing endless packets of information, composing music, discovering desire and want, and has a grasp of humor, philosophical ponderings, and emotion, and exhibits inflections in tone that obviously sound anything but robotic. Her programming appears to have no limitations.

Theodore also plays video games in 3D that utilize multiple devices to spread light across an entire wall. They’re similarly so cutting-edge that they don’t require a controller and can interact with the participant through characters that can process voices and sounds to further customize and alter their responses. It’s science-fiction without the standard spaceships and alien invasions. Writer/director Spike Jonze thinks he’s being creative, especially as he replaces commonplace melodramatic romances with a rather unique perspective and commentary on human intercommunication and contact - but the film is entirely nonsensical. Envisioning the future of individual relations and general consociation with a semi-satirical eye might be clever to some, but here it’s uncomfortably weird.

Ultimately, through the dissection of a man’s inability to relate to real human beings around him, Jonze attempts to oust the need for a physical body for a love-interest counterpart. In “Her,” a person can have a sophisticated relationship with a computer program – deterred and defined only by how others judge the part hysterical, part pathetic, part pitiable pseudo-rapport. In the mix are Amy Adams and Matt Letscher as a quarreling couple, though their roles fail to acculturate Twombly, followed by the laugh-out-loud silliness of Samantha’s hiring of a young female reciprocal action surrogate - specifically for human/OS relationships. Had Samantha taken a downward spiraling turn toward the HAL 9000 spectrum of robots, “Her” could have been exciting.

- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)

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