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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There's something funny about the teasers and trailers for Mad Men's triumphant return -- also known as Season 5. They're all missing an integral element: new footage. Perhaps the folks at AMC think that year and a half gap between seasons is enough to make us forget, or they're just that committed to keeping all of the new season's secrets contained. Of course, with all the interviews and constant publicity surrounding the series, a few sneaky peeks are sure to come out and we've been ready since Summer 2010 to catch them all.
It's All About Self-Reflection...We ThinkOne of the biggest and most cryptic hints about Season 5 comes courtesy of a photo you've probably seen three or four times in your morning commute. The latest Mad Men poster finds our anti-hero Don Draper staring in at a window that holds both his own reflection and a rather perplexing scene: two mannequins posed in a provocative domestic scene. An upstanding gentlemanly figure reclines luxuriantly while the female figure presents her bare mannequin body with a dress pooled around her ankles. They call that the Don Draper effect. Showrunner and creator Matthew Weiner made a few promises about this intriguing image in an interview with the New York Times. He said, "This is a dreamlike image...a nonverbal representation of where my head is at and where the show will be." Weiner promises that it will make sense by the end of the season. It could represent a future temptation for the betrothed, yet sexually-charged Mad Man. Or perhaps his domestic life with Megan isn't as sexy and youthful as he hoped it would be? Or maybe, just maybe, this poster represents something we could never imagine. This Season Promises Surprises Beyond Our ImaginationsBoth Jon Hamm and Jared Harris (who plays Lane Pryce) have expressed that Season 5 holds great surprises for even the most obsessed and intuitive fans. In the behind-the-scenes promo from AMC, Harris notes that "Matt [Weiner] never goes backwards." The characters will continue to progress, and while some fans may want things to go back to business as usual, the cast and creator have no intentions of turning back. "I think it will be a surprise and I think people will be pleasantly surprised and excited to see it," said Hamm. The series has always kept us on our toes; whether it's Peggy's secret pregnancy, Don's identity secret, or Sally's growing pains, we're always surprised and delighted by the ingenuity of the writing and the level to which the writers clearly know these characters as real people. If what Hamm and Harris say is true, we're in for some seriously inventive and satisfying plot lines. The Premiere is Mad Men: The Movie
Weiner is making AMC history with the March 25 premiere, which will be not one, but two full hours of Mad Men goodness. It's the perfect way to welcome us back. But this is television, there will have to be a demarcation between the episodes at the one hour mark, right? Not necessarily. The showrunner tells the Hollywood Reporter that while there will be a storyline introduced at the halfway point, it will all come together as one story by the episode's end. "It's a Mad Men movie -- I don't think anyone's going to think it's two episodes spliced together," he said. In that case, bring it on, AMC.
Trouble in Paradise?
In that same interview, Weiner discusses the relationship between Don and his new fiance Megan, but when the interviewer remarks that the couple is married, Weiner is very careful to correct him. "Don does not marry Megan...Don proposes to Megan and Megan accepts," he said. It could be just a simple correction, since the impending nuptials haven't yet happened, but could it be that the wedded bliss isn't as impending as we thought it would be? It wouldn't be totally out of character for the serial tryst artist to fall madly in love and drop his wife-to-be like a plate of fabulous hotcakes. Whatever happens, we can be sure it will be a surprise.
The New Normal
Mad Men has a way of making every season feel like a revolution and Season 5 aims to continue that tradition. In a chat with the New York Times, Weiner spoke of the new season's "theme" noting that we're heading into completely unfamiliar territory. "There’s a line in Episode 3, which is Week 2, where somebody says: 'When is everything going to get back to normal?'" he said. "Who hasn’t felt that right this minute? And that is a lot of what the season is about. That sensation that, well, this is normal."
Mad Men premieres Sunday, March 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
Source: NYT, THR