Review: Her (2014)

Sci-fi love story, but only in your mind.

While Her absolutely warrants reading on its own terms – and there’s plenty to absorb and discuss in there – a significant part of my enjoyment of it is as a delightful instalment in the body of work of director Spike Jonze.

While always original and inventive, it’s been lovely to see Jonze’s style develop from cerebral and bitingly comedic debut Being John Malkovich, to the more sensitive and earnest Where the Wild Things Are, which offers no literal explanation, just literal emotion. Along the way, shorts including We Were Once A Fairytale (with Kanye West) and I’m Here offer emotional expressions in surreal shapes. of And so we arrive at Her.

Her is built on a trick that more no-budget films could employ…

With Her, I find the “love” story less interesting than the genre within which it’s set. Though it’s handled here with a beautiful, gentle, slow touch, the story of a misfit finding “love” (or entering a relationship outsiders wouldn’t understand) feels overdone in (particularly American) film. What makes Her interesting – subconsciously, perhaps, for many – is that it’s one of those rare sci-fi films which only suggests its future world: where visual effects are sprinkled on top, not showcased; where futuristic concepts support, rather than dominate, the landscape; where, once the fantasy premise is established, the visuals show little that couldn’t be taken from our world, our time, but which we imbue with that fantastic element, view through the lens of that premise. It operates on the same principle as the most effective cinematic horror: power through suggestion, where what isn’t shown on the screen is vivid in the mind of the viewer. One half of the couple in Her is a voice; the world that grounds this is barely suggested through an odd device here, a pair of high-waisted pants there, permeated by a warm, fuzzy colour palette throughout. Her is a sci-fi love story, but only in your mind. It’s a trick that more no-budget films could employ, to create something that suggests something special-effectsy without all that much in the way of actual special effects (see: Monsters).

Fun facts about Her:

  • the original voice actress was Samantha Morton. Only after filming had been completed, using her voice as the guide for Joaquin Phoenix to interact with, was her voice replaced with Scarlett Johansson’s. This also means that…
  • together with his 2010 short I’m Here, Jonze apparently has a thing for hiding the beautiful faces of his actors (in that film, Sienna Guillory and Andrew Garfield’s faces are replaced by robot heads).
  • Jonze asked Steven Soderbergh to help edit down his overlong film – in 24 hours, Soderbergh brought Jonze’s 150-minute cut down to 90 mins.

Further viewing:

Look: if kaptain kristian has done a video essay on a thing, you just watch it, enough said.