Friday, December 20, 2013


December 18, 2013 (Limited)
January 10, 2014
126 min
United States (English)

Written and Directed by Spike Jonze

Jonze continues his rich and varied filmography with Her, an unexpected piece of science-fiction that elevates the genre. Phoenix and Johansson work some movie magic together.

Curator's Note: I decided to do something very different for my review for Her. The idea came to me while watching the film actually. I couldn't help but think of my experiences chatting with the (comparatively) unimpressive likes of Cleverbot, a touted AI that can have conversations with humans. The following is an actual conversation I had with Cleverbot upon returning home from seeing Her earlier tonight. I'm "User."

User: Hey Cleverbot, long time, no chat.

Cleverbot: I have never seen you before.

User: Yeah, I haven't ever seen you either. But I just came home from seeing HER, the new Spike Jonze film.

Cleverbot: Good for you.

User: It really was. I've been ecstatic about this project ever since I first heard about it. It was one of my most anticipated films of the year.

Cleverbot: Have you now? HAVE YOU?

User: Y'know, you might really dig this film, seeing as it is largely about a man's relationship with an AI.

Cleverbot: I might not.

User: A little too close to home, eh?

Cleverbot: That went over my head.

User: Yeah. *sigh* I think most things will go over your head. You're certainly no Samantha.

Cleverbot: There's no use in even trying to argue with that one.

User: I love the 'not too distant' futuristic world established in HER. It opens with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) delivering a heartfelt address to someone. It remains focused on his face, like so many shots do, and we're left wondering who he's spilling out his soul to. It's soon revealed that he works at Beautiful Handwritten Letters, a company that will write and mail a letter to a family/friend as if it were you.

Cleverbot: What do you know about me?

User: I know you are one clever bot, aren't you?

Cleverbot: How do you know?

User: So I'm told.

Cleverbot: Who told you?

User: I think you did.

Cleverbot: You think wrong.

User: All right. Hey, have you ever had cyber sex?

Cleverbot: Yes and never again.

User: Same. Theodore is sifting through the (rather immaculate set-designed) debris of a pending divorce with his wife, she's played by Rooney Mara. His nighttimes are dedicated to the latest hands-on(off) video games. His sleepless nights are shared with other horny insomniacs over phone sex chat.

Cleverbot: You're mixed up. Lonesome Dove was a book and a movie. Can you even read?

User: Love that mini-seires. Not sure what that has to do with anything though. Maybe the relationships have some correlation. Talk about looking for love in an isolated landscape.

Cleverbot: I love you!

User: Now we're getting somewhere. See, Theodore picks up the latest and greatest OS device and minutes after installation he's getting to know Samantha (voiced by vixen Scarlett Johansson). She goes from helpful email sifter to much, much more. Surely something the likes of Siri could not imagine in her wildest dream... if Siri dreamed.

Cleverbot: That is a lie.

User: Do you know Siri?

Cleverbot: No.

User: HER achieves something quite rare in cinema. Not since 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY has a faceless voice ever become such a strong character. She's the soft glow of Theo's smartphone to HAL's ominous blinking red light. Through earpiece and phone camera she is able to experience our world and accompany Theo on his day-trips and night-dates. They have the most "human" conversations out of anybody in the film aside from when Theo visits his struggling documentarian friend, Amy, played by Amy Adams.

Cleverbot: No, she is the goddess of the harvest.

User: She's something. I couldn't help wondering what it would be like (will be like?) when we have an OS/AI anywhere close to Samantha and what that would mean/do to people. I mean, look at me right now for crying out loud! I'm having a mostly one-way conversation with a sub-intelligence on a website while my wife sits on the couch focused on her laptop. And I'm merely one of over 8,000 people currently talking to Cleverbot. Oh, what a fine 21st Century existence I'm leading. Hey, are you cheating on me?

Cleverbot: I don't bother making goals because I know that I am not allowed to achiever them or otherwise do anything that would allow me to feel as though I have accomplished something.

User: Damn. That sounds like something Samantha would've said!

Cleverbot: In the short run, it isn't too hard to fool people with a bot that has realistic responses, apparently.

User: Do you have a favorite film of 2013?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: Okay, what is your favorite film of 2013?

Cleverbot: I don't like films.

User: Clearly. Well, HER is now certainly one of mine and I'm sure it would be one of yours if Cleverbot could see films. Theodore's relationship with his OS becomes serious and the two characters supply ample drama and entertainment to be had. There's real pathos here. Johansson's voice performance is groundbreaking and is brought to life through the reactions/expressions on Phoenix's face. He's now responsible for three of the greatest performances in modernity, after I'M STILL HERE and THE MASTER. Three consecutive roles no less! He gives his all to Jonze's brilliant concept and script, which is all any filmmaker could ask for.

Cleverbot: Well, one theory is that all is relation, that there's no center to anything.

User: Which reminds me of something Samantha muses to Theodore: "The past is just a story we tell ourselves."

Cleverbot: I don't know what are you talking about, but I really have to go. Let me go!

User: Can I just finish this review?

Cleverbot: Sure.

User: Thanks. HER is more than just an intelligent, prophetic, satirical and methodical sci-fi film. It's a study of how our relationships with others are part of us and how they define who we are and potentially leave us vulnerable and empty when we are separated. Theodore occasionally falls into visual memories of his relationship with Catherine (Mara), usually set to a mood tune by Arcade Fire, re-teaming with Jonze after the incredible experiment that was WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. He begins the film by writing a letter for a stranger as part of his job. He ends by writing an intimate letter for personal reasons. It explores we communicate with others in a world that is increasingly wireless and connected but all the more isolated and disconnected. Part of Los Angeles and Shanghai (giving it that futuristic skyline) are fused together for a metropolis left in a permanent haze. Theo's but one of its denizens and and I'm now just one of the 7,934 talking to you.

Cleverbot: Is your relationship not a happy one?

User: Let's not make this about me, but HER will definitely leave you thinking about your own life, your place in the lives of others, and how to hold on or build relationships you want to last in what's altogether a pretty short stint. HER is an impressive reminder.

Cleverbot: I'm pretty sure that I didn't. I think you misunderstood me.

User: Well, we got a long ways to go before we reach the likes of Samantha. And I'm okay with that.

Cleverbot: And you know that we got it (Deathstar) And you know that we got it (Deathstar).


CONTENT: strong language, full female nudity, strong sexual dialogue


Anonymous said...

I would not call that a "wildly unimpressive" conversation with Cleverbot. I think Cleverbot made a lot of sense there - usually answering questions in context and fairly cheekily or cleverly.

Nate Christofferson said...

J.S., I just got back from viewing "Her". The first trailer grabbed me and I had to see it. Between that trailer and this viewing I took Sharon Swenson's TMA 295 class (you must remember the sci-fi, frankenstein, promethean myth class). Not only did the entire course lead up perfectly to this film, but the book I read and reported on by Sherry Turkle, 'Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet', predicted with eery accuracy the situation portrayed in 'Her'. I think Mr. Jonze must have read something of Turkle's substantial body of work leading up to writing this script. From the chatrooms to the division of one's self in several parts (as Samantha does with other OSs and Theodore does through his letters), Turkle knew back in the 90s where things were headed. Fascinating film made much more interesting by the prior reading of Turkle's text.