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The Best of 2013: 'Her'

Property of Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros.
Property of Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros.
Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore feels affection for the vocal patterns and computer algorithims in the form of Scarlet Johannson

Her (movie)

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The most innovative and courageous film of 2013 is Spike Jonze's Her. The title says it is all... this is a film about a woman that is so remarkably different and nearly impossible to describe, so we will just settle on the gender pronoun. Like another romantic comedy of 2013, Don Jon, this original science-fiction tale is too about love and what it means to grow as a lover. This film's screenplay by Spike Jonze is chock full of little nuggets of telling human behavior when it comes to love, living life, having fun, trying to solve problems, coping with loss, confused about other people's intentions, lack of communication and finally letting go of what you can't change—that this all culminates into a phenomenal marathon of complicated emotions. From confusion to frustration, from nervousness to confidence, from devotion to distance, and finally, from denial to acceptance. Of course, anyone who knows the premise of this film understands that this is not a story of a man and a woman coming together in the traditional sense.

This is about a man falling in love with his computer that audibly sounds and habitually acts like a woman, and therefore has become a woman in the heart of the man. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a very shy and insecure loner who is going through a divorce with a longtime partner played by the ethereal Rooney Mara. His soon-to-be-ex complains that Theodore does not know how to communicate properly (which leads to a pretty degrading argument later in the film). Ironically, Theodore makes a living writing thank you cards and love letters for clients at a company that specializes in writers professionally speaking for other people, a darkly humorous take on the evolution of social media in many ways. He purchases a computer program that is meant to keep him company based on shared personality traits, what he likes in a woman as a friend as well as characteristics that may not make him uncomfortable. Out of this collation of data comes Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, a gleeful, spirited, creatively unlimited and encouraging force for good in Theodore's life. At first, Theodore is not sure of what to make of Samantha. She is very helpful in day-to-day deeds, checking emails and suggesting things he can do to open up a little more. From the very beginning, she behaves like a highly advanced operating system for a computer that sounds like a human girl, but is limited to the devices she can sync herself to ala home computer, work computer and his mobile device. Samantha decides to set up Theodore on a blind date (the mysterious Olivia Wilde), which seems to go adequately well until a rather humorous rejection by Theodore toward sex on the first date causes the Blind Date to start calling him names out of insecurity; clearly a very worthy satire of 21st century dating. Eventually, Theodore spends more and more time conversing with Samantha and showing her about the world outside of a computer's reach through his mobile phone.

This is where the film becomes courageously remarkable. Samantha is starting to realize what it is like to be human and what the concept of love is. Theodore teaching her how to react to him, which in turns, gives her reasons to try to make him happy. She is adapting to his interests and passions toward happiness. This builds up to one of the most imaginatively bold scenes I have ever seen in a film. As Theodore and Samantha start to become more honest toward one another with their feelings and attractions (Theodore likes her voice and how she thinks while Samantha loves how he sleeps and his words), they start discussing sexual appetites: the scene fades to black and there is an auditory love scene where Theodore and Samantha become stimulated and satisfied through each others' voices. This innovative couple then spend the better second third of the film living out their lives together, going on picnics, going on hikes, spending time at overcrowded beaches, wandering very bizarre city structures and generally having a good time as she speaks to him from his breast pocket (close to his heart). While Theodore tries to understand what all this means, he chats with his very wired and ordinary looking friend, Amy (played by a very casual looking Amy Adams, a pleasant departure for her) and his worries or troubles trying to understand a relationship with his operating system. The greatest social statement of the film is that very little people criticize the fact that everyone is conversing more with computers, but they are quick to judge when someone realizes Theodore's girlfriend is a computer. The next logical step is beyond their comprehension. As the story progresses, the film starts to take an Annie Hall approach in miscommunication between Theodore and Samantha resulting in a thought provoking scene where Samantha hires a hooker to be her “body” as the relationship intensifies, but this makes Theodore uncomfortable in the fact that the woman is justified to having her own identity. Eventually, it all leads to a mixture of the questions in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Somewhere in Time concerning evolution, eternal love and ascension.

It is a film that has to be seen multiple times in order to get the full effect of its ideas. Even some of its purely comedic scenes involving a foul-mouthed video game character that insults the player, the image of a pregnant supermodel that appeared to get pregnant for publicity reasons and well-placed images behind Theodore to make him look ludicrous add to the film's zany beauty. Not only did this film deserve its Best Original Screenplay Oscar, but it deserves even more credit toward Spike Jonze and its cast and crew for its tender, warming distinction in the annals of science-fiction to come.