Spike Jonze’s HER was the cinematic high-point of 2013 for me, though I didn’t actually get to see it until the beginning of this year. I still stand by what I said in my original review, which you can find here, but I’ve had a few more thoughts since then.
I’m overjoyed that Her holds up to a re-watch, and I actually found myself getting more out of it, noticing subtleties for the first time, and found it an even deeper, richer viewing experience overall the second time round.
Joaquin Phoenix is having a phenomenal few years. I didn’t particularly enjoy THE MASTER, but I can’t deny Phoenix was a force of nature in it. His performance as Theodore Twombly couldn’t be more different, but it’s just as complex and layered. As the human face of the film (since, ya’know, the other main character doesn’t have a face), and as good as Johansson and Adams are, it is Phoenix for the most part who is responsible for conveying the story’s humanity, making a genuine connection with us. As he gradually strips back the layers of vulnerable, endearing, but not always wholly likable character, he reveals us all for what we are, flaws and all, before promising us a brighter future when Theodore makes it through the other side of his relationship rut. Few might consider Phoenix, known for playing intense weirdos, as a romantic lead, but I’m so grateful Jonze saw something there, because his low-key sensitivity and unexpected grasp of awkward comedy (particularly in the cringe-inducing and odd sex scenes) is a winner.
I never really picked up before the interesting things the film does with sound. Most narrative films feature an original music score or a selection of pre-existing popular music to heighten the emotions of a given scene. Her is no different, with Arcade Fire and Karen O contributing compositions, but much of the music is experienced by the characters as diegetic sound since the world presented in the film has everyone constantly connected by an earpiece. No-one is left alone with their thoughts in Jonze’s future, and Theodore walks around future LA with a constant soundtrack in his head, whether he’s listening to music (“Play melancholy song”… “Play different melancholy song”), talking to Samantha or talking to her about the music she has just composed for him. Sound is such a crucial part of the emotional development of the characters, and tellingly Theodore’s good times with Samantha come with music and laughter, and his haunting flashbacks of his previous relationship are accompanied by an eerie silence. The last thing we hear in the film, referring back to an argument about necessary and unnecessary breathing, poignantly, is a single breath.
In a film full of great ideas, one of the best is Jonze’s old-meets-new future aesthetic. In a world that relies almost completely on integrated technology day-to-day, it makes sense that people would still want to hang on to something tangible. Everyone dresses their apartments and themselves like it’s the 1950s, computer monitors are encased in varnished wood, books have become prized and rare luxuries, and people still want to receive hand-written letters despite paying someone else to write them.
While the most heart-rending punch comes a couple of scenes earlier, it’s entirely thematically appropriate that the highest point of the emotional crescendo that is Her’s finale, comes from Theodore finally composing a letter from himself to one he loves. He is finally a whole person, able to express his soul to someone with a physical presence all thanks to a life-changing experience with someone existing without one. SSP