Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Agree: Her

2013, Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) -- cinema

P.S. There is something to be said in that there is only one poster that Google hits for this movie.

I cannot talk about this movie without revealing some pretty important details, so pretty much take the entire review as a SPOILER ALERT. But, it is not a movie with surprise reveals so they may not be so spoilerish to you.

Her is both a science fiction movie, set in an indeterminate future where the release of an artificial intelligence OS is met not with incredulity but only sense of consumer interest. And it is a movie where love is focused on communication. I could do entire reviews from both fronts, in my usual 3 paragraph format. Instead, I will revert to normal, everyday format of the reviewer.

That in of itself is strange, when the format that was supposed to be the occasional concept when I didn't have much to say, has become the norm, and the longer, characteristic format is the occasional.

The Future. The future looks spectacular in this movie. This is the future of 1920s futurist, full of clean surfaces, buildings connected by wide open concrete spaces, bullet trains and relaxed leisure. The movie is set in LA, but was shot in both LA and Shanghai, something I caught onto very quickly. The US just doesn't have the expansive, pedestrian friendly urban spaces that look.... well, current. That can also translate as covered in concrete. Many wide shots in the movie were CG enhanced, massive skylines of skyscrapers and high-rises, from left screen to right. LA is not that big now. This was MegaCity Two without the dystopia.

It is an idealistic future with technology either unobtrusive or completely absent. Think, Minority Report with its intrusive advertising and full screen interfaces; then forget that. Think of any movie set in a near future and you will see giant TV screens and blaring advertising. There was a surprising lack of media or advertising in this movie, what little there was, relegated to spoken word emails, easily skipped or deleted.  Even the advertising that inspires inspires Theodore Twombly to buy the OS, is more an installation art piece than an in your face ad.

Computers play an important role, and no I don't just pun-ishly mean Scarlett Johansen, but they have a place in the movie, ever present in the main characters' lives. They are presented as just beautiful monitors, more like high-res Umbra picture frames of white or natural wood. The interface is either voice or touch, via the virtual mouse/keyboard space in front of the monitor, i.e. the desk's surface. It states, and reflects on what is already happening now, that computers will someday play an everyday role, much like telephones and TVs now. I am sure there was a time when the telephone was considered a tool that only the techie in the family knew how to handle.

The unobtrusive nature of tech is extended to the mobile interface, a small pocket sized device that looks more like an embossed leather & chrome business card holder than a smart phone. Again, most interaction is done via voice with the hand-held only used for video and small screen. You might think the days of being distracted by your device are gone in this future, but the fact that he can stand on the elevator and talk to his PC and nobody reacts at all means people are used to everyone just babbling to their computers all the time. It would make for a crowded, noisy train space. But I imagine everyone keeps it to a low conversational level.

The other minor comment on technology is that it is ever connected, everywhere, all the time. I mean, the wifi they use is always on, everywhere. Twombly is connected in his apartment, on the subway, in the underground malls, at the beach and even in the snowy mountains when he takes a vacation trip. Computing technology is ubiquitous, all mingled together and indistinguishable.

This is a beautiful future, clean and well dressed. I will go so far as to say poverty may be gone as well as unemployment. This may be me reading into their nice lives, but everyone was living a unstressed, upper middle class life full of realized potential. And yes, well dressed, but by gawds I hated the retro, stylish geeky high waisted pants even if they had comfortable written all over them. I like Graig's comparison to Tom Ford doing comfort wear.

And yet, this movie is not just a commentary on the future, a retro future of times predicted in the 60s. That is just the setting, the setting well thought out and considered. But this is a movie about communication. Of which romantic love is just one example. It is the primary example, the impetus to tell a story, where two people (and I am completely comfortable calling Samantha a person) know each other via communication only. Like the lovers I knew who met via chat rooms in the mid-90s, all the extraneous material of body and voice and other senses have been replaced with the mind, the creativity of what we envision and the senses we are left with when all are absent. Raw communication.

This future accepts unconditionally the importance of human connection. It is a utopia where we have understood tech is just a tool, a toy, but our interactions are the most important. Twombly has my dream job, where he applies his romantic nature and skilled writing to crafting letters between two caring individuals who just lack the poetic words to write a proper letter. Yes, a letter. He might dictate it via a computer and generate a hand-writing font from a laser printer and post the letters via a mailbox of lights and beeps, but he is writing a letter; a letter. One that is mailed and received. As a man who was once addicted to hand written and mailed letters, I get that romantic sentiment. I get it. Its important. Its tangible.

And yet Twombly is emotionally stunted. His previous marriage ended because he couldn't communicate how uncomfortable he was with his wife's introverted and emotionally distant personality. Yet, he exhibits his own. And yet he accepts Samantha as a fascinating creature almost instantly, someone to interact with, like a friend you just met in a social environment you didn't set up. He accepts her. From the day he boots her, she is a person to him, not just an OS. And as she grows, so does he. She, and yes she, helps him grow and get past his blocks.

I could go on and on, but I should leave a bit for you to experience. Both in the science fiction and in the loveliness of  the communication. How judgements of others are dispensed with for understanding. How I believe the AI OS and her lifespan with Twoombly was intentional. How the contribution to people's growth and expansion was intentional, in both the plot of the movie and the plot of the OS developers.

There is so much to this movie.

I am happy I saw it. So, tell us what you thought.