Movie #4: Her

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Though not entirely new (remember 80s film Electric Dreams? I didn’t think so), the concept of romance between a man and his computer is somewhat intriguing (and so clearly inspired by all those people turned-on by the voice of iPhone’s “Siri”). Writer-director Spike Jonze’s version puts Joaquin Phoenix at the heart of this boy-meets-OS tale, as Theodore, a mild-mannered professional writer of “handwritten” letters (apparently this is a service people will pay for in the future). When he installs a new operating system on his personal computer, he’s introduced to its AI personality Samantha, voiced with husky sexiness by Scarlett Johansson. As Theodore’s relationship with Samantha develops, it’s not particularly weird to witness, and that’s because there is very little that’s artificial about Samantha. She sounds totally natural (not even any digital tweaks to make her sound more robotic) and it’s as if their relationship were between two human people over the phone instead. Samantha has needs, feelings and ideas, much like an actual woman. Granted, Samantha is kind of intrinsic to Theodore’s life and knows all about him, but since to us viewers they are also both fictional characters, it’s not weird. Script writers also know everything. In addition, even the “real world” that Theodore is in seems a bit too perfect (sky’s always rosy like sunset, and there’s  just the right amount of people walking around streets to feel safe and friendly) — I even thought that the twist ending might be that Theodore himself was part of a virtual reality (but thankfully that didn’t happen). Let’s just call this a thought-experiment and consider all these characters somewhat hypothetical. After Theodore and Samantha establish that they are indeed a cute couple, the movie finally started to take a more serious sci-fi look at the situation that it created. Theodore starts to tell people that he’s “dating” his computer’s operating system (and they react). Then there are discussions with Samantha about what it means to have a body (leading to a provocative, though awkward, scene with a woman acting as a physical surrogate for Samantha). I wished that the movie had spent more time on these kinds of dilemmas rather than the romantic-comedy stuff in the first half. There are some pretty bizarre moments (including when Theodore asks Samantha how many people she’s in love with), but with such a strange premise, I wish that there had been more. Unfortunately, the ending is even stranger and kind of takes the Samantha character into a place that makes her more like an alien than a computer. It seemed a little contrived and designed to tie up the plot. Phoenix is wonderful carrying the lion’s share of this movie. He portrays Theodore as sensitive, quirky, vulnerable and thoughtful. Considering some of the other edgier roles that he’s played, his believability in this role is a sign of his versatility. I do love this kind of indie-film science fiction, but I just wish there were more of the latter than the former. (3.5 out of 5)

4 down, 46 to go.

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