Spike Jonze doesn't waste any time introducing us to the technology at the center of Her. "An operating system that can mimic human sentience?" a dangerously lonely Joaquin Phoenix wonders after catching glimpse of an ad in a transit station. "Don't mind if I do!" (He doesn't actually say that, don't worry.) But by the time we're meant to believe that such a world can seamlessly integrate characters like Scarlett Johansson's automated voice Samantha into the lives of living, breathing men and women like Phoenix's Theodore, we're already established residents of this arresting, icy, quivering world the filmmaker has built. We meet Theodore midway through his recitation of a "handwritten letter" he penned on behalf of a woman to her husband of many years. That's his job — tapping into his own unique sensititivies to play ghostwriter for people hoping to adorn their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, and children with personal notes of personal affection. Theodore is no independent contractor; he's part of a thriving company, and we almost get the feeling that the folks on the receiving end of these letters are in the know. Before we ever encounter Samantha, we're embedded in the central conceit of the movie: emotional surrogacy is an industry on the rise.
What makes Jonze's world so palatable is that, beneath its marvelously eerie aesthetic, this idea is barely science-fiction. Theodore, humbled and scarred by a recent divorce from lifelong love Catherine (Rooney Mara, who contrasts Johansson by giving a performance that, for a large sum of the movie, is all body and no voice), accesses the will to go on through interractions with video game characters and phone-sex hotlines. But the ante is upped with Samantha, the self-named operating system that Theodore purchases to stave off loneliness, deeming choice a far less contorting one than spending time with old pals like Amy (Amy Adams)... at first.
Samantha evolves rather quickly from an articulate Siri into a curious companion, who is fed and engaged by Theodore just as much as she feeds and engages him. Jonze paces his construction of what, exactly, Samantha is so carefully that we won't even catch the individual steps in her change — along with Theodore, we slowly grow more and more enamored and mystified by his computer/assistant/friend/lover before we can recognize that we're dealing with a different being altogether from the one we met at that inceptive self-aware "H-hello?" But Jonze lays tremendous groundwork to let us know this story is all for something: all the while, as the attractions build and the hearts beat faster for Samantha, we foster an unmistakable sense of doom. We can't help but dread the very same perils that instituted one infamous admission: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
But Jonze's sci-fi constructs are so cohesively intertwined with his love story that our dread doesn't exactly translate to an anticipation of HAL's hostile takeover. Her wedges us so tightly between Theodore and Samantha that our fears of the inevitable clash between man and machine apprehend a smaller, more intimate ruin. As Samantha's growth become more surprising and challenging to Theodore, to herself, and to us, the omens build for each.
And although all three parties know better, we cannot help but affix ourselves to the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha, and to the possibility that we're building toward something supreme. A good faction of this is due to the unbelievable performances of Phoenix — representing the cautious excitement that we all know so painfully well — and Johansson, who twists her disembodied voice so empathetically that we find ourselves, like Theodore, forgetting that we have yet to actually meet her. The one castigation that we can attach to the casting of Johansson is that such a recognizable face will, inevitably, work its way into our heads when we're listening to her performance. It almost feels like a cheat, although we can guarantee that a performance this good would render a figure just as vivid even if delivered by an unknown.
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In this way, Her is as effective a comment on the healthiest human relationships as it is on those that rope in third parties — be they of the living, automated, or greeting card variety. In fact, the movie has so many things to say that it occasionally steps on its own feet, opening up ideas so grand (and coloring them so brightly) that it sometimes has trouble capping them coherently. Admittedly, if Spike Jonze had an answer to some of the questions he's asking here, he'd probably be suspected of himself being a super-intelligent computer. But in telling the story of a man struggling to understand what it means to be in love, to an operating system or not, Jonze invites us to dissect all of the manic and trying and wonderful and terrifying and incomprehensible elements therein. Just like Samantha, Her doesn't always know what to do with all of its brilliance. But that might be part of why we're so crazy over the both of them.
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In the spirit of the Fourth of July, Hollywood.com has put together a list of fifty movies with the word "America" in the title. Movies that have truly exemplified what our country is about. Movies that have made us appreciate our history and freedom. Movies about love, passion, overcoming obstacles... and a talking can of vegetable soup
AIR AMERICA Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. debate the morality of flying drugs to Laos during the Vietnam War
AMERICA, AMERICA A Greek kid loses a lot of money and wants to come to the U.S.
AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS Julia Roberts and John Cusack like each other
THE AMERICAN George Clooney is involved with assassinry
AN AMERICAN AFFAIR A young kid works in the Kennedy era for a woman who has great semblance to Marilyn Monroe
AMERICAN ANTHEM Some girl convinces a retired gymnast to do gymnastics again
AMERICAN BEAUTY Kevin Spacey wants to sleep with a teenager; his neighbor films litter
THE AMERICAN CAN Will Smith’s upcoming film on Hurricane Katrina
AN AMERICAN CAROL Michael Moore and Charles Dickens are treated with contempt
AMERICAN COWSLIP They actually misspelled “loser” in the trailer for this movie
AN AMERICAN CRIME Catherine Keener holds Juno hostage for some reason
AN AMERICAN DREAM Police and gangsters pursue a murderous talk show host
AMERICAN DREAMER A writer goes to Paris and becomes delusional
AMERICAN DREAMZ A misguided melding of terrorism and televised singing competitions
AMERICAN FLYERS Kevin Costner and his crazy brother ride bikes in the mountains
AMERICAN FUSION A Chinese immigrant with a crazy family falls for a Mexican doctor
AMERICAN GANGSTER Denzel Washington gets rich doing bad things
AMERICAN GIGOLO Richard Gere paves the way for Rob Schneider’s career
AMERICAN GRAFFITI The 60s were better than other times
AMERICAN HISTORY X Edward Norton is a pretty big racist for a while
AMERICAN IDIOT They’re making the Green Day album into a movie now
AMERICAN OUTLAWS Colin Farrell is a very modernized Jesse James
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Gene Kelly is involved in a love triangle, for a change
AMERICAN PIE A bunch of kids try to lose their virginities
AMERICAN PIE 2 Those same kids get a house on Lake Michigan
AMERICAN PIE 3 / AMERICAN WEDDING The main kid gets married to the girl who started as a one-off joke
AMERICAN PIE 4 / AMERICAN REUNION One of the kids is probably going to get caught in a compromising position
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT President Michael Douglas loves Lobbyist Annette Bening
AMERICAN PSYCHO Christian Bale wears suits, likes Huey Lewis, and kills people
AMERICAN SPLENDOR Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar in the cartoonist’s biopic… which also stars Harvey Pekar
AMERICAN STRAYS Ten nut jobs drive through the Midwest; there’s a lot of killing
AN AMERICAN SUMMER Modern reimagining of Tom Sawyer, sort of
AMERICAN TABOO A photographer prefers to take pictures than to talk to people
AN AMERICAN TAIL Fievel makes us all believe in hope
AMERICAN VIOLET A black single mom is racially-profiled for dealing drugs in Texas
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON There’s an American werewolf in London
BIRDS OF AMERICA Matthew Perry’s siblings are out of their minds
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER Skinny Brooklynite will become the ultimate soldier and save the world
COMING TO AMERICA Eddie Murphy in whiteface tells a joke about spoons
IN AMERICA Family of Irish immigrants adjust to American life
KIDS IN AMERICA Claire Dumphy is an unreasonable high school principal who incurs the wrath of her students
KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL Abigail Breslin proves that all kids are smarter than all adults
KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL AMERICAN Ronald Reagan makes the most parodied movie speech ever
THE LAST AMERICAN HERO Jeff Bridges drives past and makes his own liquor
THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN A group of friends fight, do drugs, have sex, and maybe learn a little something
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA Robert DeNiro plays against type as a conflicted gangster
TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE Puppets fight al Qaeda, Kim Jong Il, and Matt Damon
THE QUIET AMERICAN Michael Caine is a reporter in the adaptation of a book I was supposed to read in college
THE UGLY AMERICAN Marlon Brando goes to Southeast Asia and takes offense to Communism
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER Christopher Meloni fondles is sweaters
You’ve got to follow the biggest story--and right now that story is Hurricane Gustav coming ashore southwest of New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane, NOT the Republican national convention, which was due to begin tonight.
According to the Associated Press, television news networks rapidly shifted focus and personnel away from the Republican national convention to Gulf Coast communities in the path of Hurricane Gustav on Sunday.
"We're going to go with the biggest story of the day tomorrow," Jay Wallace, a news vice president at Fox News Channel, told AP, "and right now the biggest story of the day is the storm."
Anchors Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper and Shepard Smith were all going to the New Orleans area for the storm instead of being with Republicans in St. Paul, Minn.
As it stands, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have canceled plans to be at the convention, and the GOP was considering other changes to its program.
Along with Smith, Fox was sending Geraldo Rivera and at least a dozen crews to the Gulf, AP reports. Fox had been anticipating a big week in St. Paul; its ratings topped every broadcast and cable network at the 2004 GOP convention--but not now.
Considering the flack the Bush administration received for the late response in dealing with Hurricane Katrina three years ago, it makes sense everyone is jumping to New Orleans’ aid. But it’s a bad time for Republicans to share the spotlight. At least President Bush’s bowing out helps shift the focus off those Katrina reminders, which might have hurt the Republicans’ big opening night.
Still, news executives had more immediate concerns. "My thumbs are numb from the Blackberry exchanges between yesterday and today in terms of shifting our coverage," Fox's Wallace told AP. Ah, all in the day of news.