Friday, January 10, 2014


The easy way to summarize Her is to say it is about a man who falls in love with Siri. On some level that is an accurate description, but for the most part it misses the point. The story was conceived before Siri existed, when writer/director/producer Spike Jonze interacted with a chat bot via instant message. Her reminds me strongly of a Philip K Dick novel in the way that it takes real, current technology, extrapolates how it might affect our near future, and therefore encourages us to consider the present and our place in it.

This movie is not for everyone. It is slow, quiet, and deeply and often uncomfortably personal. It reaches for profundity and, for me at least, does not quite get there. It is an excellent character study, but the character is odd enough that viewers might have trouble relating to him.

Him, in this case, is Theodore as played by Joaquin Phoenix. The staging and his performance remind me of James Franco in 127 Hours. This is a compliment; I think it is possible that Phoenix will get an Oscar nomination for the role. The titular Her is capably voiced by Scarlett Johansson. While her character and arc are interesting, her lack of embodiment rests the bulk of the performance duties on Phoenix. In a sense, he needs to act for both of them, and he is brilliant - extraordinarily vulnerable and human. Though I have to note that the mustache he wears is distractingly creepy.

For me, as a sci-fi and technology enthusiast with a degree in Cognitive Science, there is nothing especially innovative or surprising about the plot. We have been thinking about artificial intelligence for a long time now, and its potential ramifications should we ever achieve a truly aware system have been pretty well explored. So I found the film to be fairly predictable, even safe at times. Your mileage may vary.

Regardless of that, this film is extraordinarily well executed. There is artistry in the camera work, in the acting, even in the color palette. Filming a movie in which a substantial portion of the dialogue is delivered off-screen must be difficult, but they make it work.

In sum: reminiscent of what might have happened if Philip K Dick had written a romance novel. Artistically shot and brilliantly acted, but somewhat short of profound. Also, rather explicit in places, though not visually.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. Frozen
5. Now You See Me
6. The World's End
7. Ender's Game
8. Despicable Me 2
9. Star Trek: Into Darkness
10. Thor: The Dark World
11. Oblivion
12. Pacific Rim
13. Rush
14. Iron Man 3
15. Her
16. Kick Ass 2
17. American Hustle
18. 47 Ronin
19. Man of Steel
20. Jack the Giant Slayer
21. Beautiful Creatures
22. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
23. The Family
24. RIPD
25. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
26. Oz the Great and Powerful
27. Epic
28. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
29. The Wolverine
30. Elysium
31. Monsters University
32. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
33. The Grandmaster
34. Machete Kills
35. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
36. Carrie
37. The Great Gatsby
38. The Lone Ranger
39. This is the End

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