This film begins with an oxymoron. Theodore Twombly produces computer-generated hand-written letters for customers too busy, too lacking or otherwise incapable of producing their own heartfelt letters of note for their loved ones. It’s a merging of the imagination of man with the conveniences of technology, the apex of the potential of such unions. Existing in a vacuum of de-personalisation for an unspecified number of years (a lack of specification being a key recurring element here), during which his own marriage has failed and a reclusive sense of loneliness has taken hold, Twombly makes for compelling company from an audiences perspective, and a figure from whom increasing complexity unravels.
It’s fifteen years since Spike Jonze first charted such dark-tinged science-fiction with 1999’s Being John Malkovich. Falling during the midst of a legendary 12 month period in which the iconoclasts took over the Hollywood machine, Being John Malkovich marked the emergence of an impressive new talent to feature filmmaking, with Jonze having cut his teeth in the music video industry. Her is the director’s fourth feature, and his first in almost five years.
While the film does delve dark at times (the idea of surrogates, and Samantha’s revelation as to the true scope of her being sinks deep), ultimately it’s a tale of immense hopefulness. Visions of HAL-9000 or Skynet be damned, with Jonze’s world a surprising Utopia. Such a Utopia is relatively rare, cinematically speaking (one only need quickly Google ‘Utopia’ and it’s antonym to see that fiction far favours the dystopian). As with most non-contemporaneously set fiction “The Future” is little more than an enabler here, affording it’s creator the room to ponder thoughts otherwise perhaps too personal to dwell on sans the shield of moderate emotional anonymity granted thanks to the removed temporal setting.
It’s difficult not to read Her as a very intense piece of Catharsis from a person who has felt such feelings himself. It might be interesting to read the film as a response to, or a companion piece of, Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. Coppola, Jonze’s ex-wife, mused on alienation and loneliness, cyphering her own emotional standing through Scarlett Johansson, an actor who appears here as Samantha, the operating system for whom Twombly falls. Jonze “solves” any such problems with the language of Her, with his Twombly a figure in a much more positive place when the picture ends. Samantha is actually something of a MacGuffin, engineered to take Twombly from point A to point B, with the real emotional weight carried in the individual. Given that Samantha isn’t a physical presence there’s a certain weight given to seeing Twombly a solitary figure against whatever backdrop he’s placed alongside. A frame shared with another instantly becomes an aesthetic celebration; be it with his two-man circle of friends, or when on a double-date with a work colleague and his girlfriend, the impact is all the more affecting, leading to an overwhelming final scene.
Jonze’s utopia seems to exist in the same world as Jacques Tati, minus the chaos. A subdued, modernist landscape, again lacking in the definitive (the L.A. of Her could be ten or one hundred years from now), Twombly is rendered minute next to the towering concrete highs of Jonze’s California. Technology is partially organic, with keyboardless desktop computers housed in wood and screens bound in leather. Twombly’s epiphany comes sealed with the arrival of that most archaic of token’s, a paper book, the adoption of nature taking his eyes away from a digital screen, a pleasure ill afforded to anyone lucky enough to cross paths with Jonze’s charming film.