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HER (review)

Written and Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson

Samantha: How do you share your life with somebody?

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness are not just the pillars in the American Declaration of Independence, but are recurring fundamental themes in the award-worthy films of the holiday season. In addition to the pursuit of happiness, however, these films focus on their protagonists’ hunt for liberty, and their individual definitions of such. As Western society’s booming trend of cocooning grows (with apartment buildings rapidly shooting up in metropolitan areas to further coddle this trend), it is no wonder filmmakers are addressing our individual need to distance ourselves from each other in an increasing number of films. While films for the masses, including, but not limited to, THOR 2, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, and SAVING MR. BANKS choose to thinly veil their protagonists’ Daddy and Mommy Dearest Psychology 101 issues under a sugar coating of scene-chewing spectacle, the superior triptych of ALL IS LOST, FROZEN, HER (and to a lesser degree, GRAVITY) transparently tackle our dominating individual need for isolation. In HER, Spike Jonze’s sharp polemic on the very nature of intimacy, man’s struggle with solitude and how technology lulls us into infinite state of detachment is philosophically questioned and explored.


The film centres on Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, once again disappearing fully into a role), a former L.A. Weekly writer who now dictates amorous letters for people too busy or dispassionate to write them themselves at Although friendly with his co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt, again playing second fiddle to the lead, after the disappointing DELIVERY MAN earlier this year), Theodore leads a lonely life following the heartbreaking end of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara). To cure his loneliness, he purchases a finely attuned operating system, which promises to attend to his every need. Seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha possesses an innocent, quizzical excitement for life. Devoid of any emotional baggage, insecurities, or needs of her own, she is the perfect woman. Obstacles, such as her lack of a physical body, are addressed by hiring the young, willing, and beautiful surrogate Isabella (Portia Doubleday, last seen in the disastrous remake of CARRIE). As Theodore’s relationship with Samantha blossoms he learns to open himself up to embracing other people and their faults and, more importantly, being frankly honest with them. These people include his wise neighbour Amy (Amy Adams, this year’s most undervalued actress and Phoenix’s co-star in THE MASTER).

Jonze has injected each of his films (especially his spectacularly overlooked WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) with protagonists that embody a child-like fascination with their respective worlds. HER, Jonze’s first sole screenwriting credit, is sprinkled with repeated mention of and variations on the word ‘excitement’, as if to violently shake the harshly cynical audience of its collective consuming frigidity. The costume design and award worthy production design (by Casey Storm and K.K. Barrett, respectively) further cement this sentiment by colourfully dressing the characters and their surroundings only in youthful, primary colours of reds, blues, and yellows. The colour red hasn’t been so lushly used to convey so much emotion since Wong Kar Wai’s stunning IN THE MODD FOR LOVE. Her is also lovingly photographed by cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema (whose brilliance was pored over at length at TIFF’s In Conversation with Spike Jonze).


In FROZEN, Queen Elsa’s repeated mantra of “conceal, don’t feel” can easily be used by any of the given protagonists in a smattering of holidays films and, for that matter, by most individuals in Western society. Perhaps if we are to evolve, we should leave our “kingdoms of isolation”, and embrace Jonze’s chaste worldview. It is only then that we will find our hearts, ourselves, and a warm shoulder upon which to rest our heads.


Your turn!

How many sheep would you give Her?




  1. As specific and as meticulous as this film is, it shocks me at how universal it can be. I honestly feel like it may be one of the most introspective and open minded explorations of love and the human condition that ever existed. I hope Jonze is happy with it because it is just intoxicating.

    I gush but I just came from a second viewing so surely you will allow it.

  2. My favorite movie of last year, i just want to see it again and again.

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