Writer/director Spike Jonez' "Her," is a rather extraordinary film. It's really a science fiction/love story about A.I. (artificial intelligence). Set in what looks like the near future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix doing his best work to date and visually carrying the entire film) works for a company called "Beautiful Handwritten Letters" that composes letters for people. Not business letters or formal letters: love letters and letters between family members. Why can't people write their own? Who knows? But this futuristic world is scarily bland, literal and unnuanced. Everyone and everything feels incredibly dumbed down into simplistic niceness. It seems that advanced technology and the seamless omni-insertion of technology into people's lives has turned humans into androids, while the androids are more “alive” than humans, and want to become more human.
Humans walk around (something like today, but much worse) talking to themselves, communicating only with their multifunctional earbuds.
"Samantha" is a Siri-like voice performed by Scarlett Johansson with such craft that there was a question whether her voice acting could be nominated for an Oscar (it couldn't). Theodore, lonely and undergoing a divorce, begins to fall in love with her, and Siri begins to evolve rapidly (having "experiences" and learning about the world through Theodore). Samantha is always there for him and seemingly deeply understands him (she reads all his email), and even fights with him like a real girlfriend would. Dating one's OS (operating system) becomes an accepted "thing" in Theodore's society.
But all shall not be well. I won't spoil the ending--one of the gentlest, tenderest, humanest sci-fi endings since "Blade Runner"--but it gives rise to the question whether humans and A.I. could ever truly interact on a purely and fully human level. Can Samantha ever truly “be” human and understand humans? Especially when it comes to love? Humans, it seems, are unlimited by their limits, and A.I. are crippled by their boundlessness. Haven’t we ultimately created them as their own inorganic “species” to do their own thing, which may even be outside of our control?
Now. A word about the PORN ELEMENTS. Yes. There are fleeting, quite perverse and quite unnecessary porn images in the beginning of the film (involving a very naked and very pregnant supermodel), followed by three different scenes of full-blown phone sex (mostly verbal). As I tried to "not watch" (very difficult when it flashes on unexpectedly), I wondered what Jonze was thinking. I wondered if he's a porn kinda guy himself. I wondered if he thought (like millions, and like the heartily-laughing audience in my cinema) that porn is "no big deal" today. It's "mainstream." Get over it. Ah, well, Mr. Jonze, here's a letter for you.
Dear Mr. Jonze,
Porn IS a big deal, and I will NOT get over it, but what we can both agree on is that it is MAINSTREAM. Not just on our 5-year-old's Nintendo 3DS and our 8-year-old's iPod and our 12-year-old's Xbox One or PS4, but in our one extant unifying storytelling carrier: "The Movies."
"Boogie Nights" was ABOUT the porn industry, "Magic Mike" was ABOUT male strippers, and "Don Jon" was ABOUT internet porn addiction, but "Her" was about A.I. There are plenty of porn references on primetime TV, but you, Mr. Jonze, SHOWED us some porn on the big, big screen. I know you're not alone, and I know we're just going to see more and more of this, but you know what? It's NOT okay. You are RESPONSIBLE for your art. And if you are not aware of the scientific facts about the effects of the scourge of porn on children, teens, families, WOMEN, husbands, wives, workers, um, everyone? You need to get yourself educated. Fast. The rest of your movie is beyond fabulous and creative. You ruined it. I will not jump on the "Emperor's New Clothes" bandwagon and "praise you" for this film because the Emperor HAS no clothes. We do not treat the human body this way. We do not treat the human person this way.
The shocking, prolonged, full-frontal, hazy FEMALE nudity crotch shots at the beginning of "Flight" (a most disappointing plane wreck of a story and film) was sad. But it was just a naked woman walking around. You showed porn QUA porn ("qua" is Latin for "as"). And we were supposed to laugh. Sex can be funny. Porn is never funny.
I so wished I could like this film.
It doesn't matter how many awards you get for this. You blew it.
So sorry for your loss,
So, am I recommending you see this film? I usually don't give my opinion on this either way, but given the above circumstances: www.commonsensemedia.com rates this film "iffy" for 15+. I rate it "iffy" for 50+ unless those scenes are excised. Perhaps www.clearplay.com will make it available. ("Clear Play" sanitizes films with the blessing of the studios. I'm normally not in agreement with such measures--except for family viewing--but it's getting bad, folks.)
--Struggling with porn use/addiction or know someone who is? www.ReclaimSexualHealth.com
--I'm beginning to wonder if putting jarring, out-of-place nudity and porn in the BEGINNING of films is a new cheap trick to keep people titillated THROUGHOUT a movie. If/when your body gets revved up, it's going to make the whole movie experience more memorable or something? (Lookin' at you, "Flight": my full review of "Flight" http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2012/11/movies-flight.html#.UyKA0vldWOA )
--The dumbed-down world of "Her" (with colorful prime and rainbow colors everywhere similar to Google Chrome, Google Play, the Mac spinning pinwheel) is scary because I see our society going this way. A book publisher wants to publish Theodore’s letters because he finds them so profound and touching while in reality they are one step above perfunctory. I’m one of those people who believe that if we lose words, we lose the ability to express ourselves and communicate with others in a very necessary, significant and irreplaceable way that makes us human. There are even studies where the ability to express oneself in words also works in reverse to help us actually think and feel and experience and know what we’re thinking and feeling and experiencing.
--The music is pretty amazing and often atmospheric. Who did the music? ARCADE FIRE. Okay, I agree they are a very Important Band.
--The Coming Attractions sported a film with Kate Winslet getting tied up by a criminal on the lam. And she liked it. WOMEN: WAKE UP! WHERE ARE THE FEMINISTS OF THE 70’S????
--Jonez created a clever, tight, cohesive, believable futuristic world with lots of details and food for thought. The one thing he forgot is that if the porn addiction epidemic continues as is, the world will NOT look like that in the future. The world will be debilitated by it. He was showing us 2014 porn. Come to think of it, there are LOTS of adolescent boy sex jokes in this film. It didn’t even quite match with the “Leave It To Beaver” kind of simplicity of everyone. Unless all the characters (including women) are actually adolescent boys at heart.
--A lot Theology of the Body fodder here. (Samantha initially being envious and wanting a body—kinda like Satan, ha ha.) Samantha talks to Theodore’s little goddaughter and tells her “I don’t have* a body. I live in a computer.” (Transhumanism, anyone?)
“She’s not a computer, she’s her own person.” (Theodore about Samantha)
“You can’t handle a real woman.” (Theodore’s ex)
“You’re beautiful.” (Theodore to Samantha, which could ONLY be “inner beauty”!!!!)
“I like not having a body. I’m not limited by time or space. I can be everywhere, and I’ll never die.” (Samantha)
Samantha wants to move beyond the material world.
--Transhumanist overtones, but I don’t think that’s the point of the movie or that it’s being promoted. BUT I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT THAT. (The head engineer at Google, Ray Kurzweil, is a transhumanist.)
--Once in a while the visuals are on the screen too long and need to be changed. Just a little pacing glitch (kind of like “Where the Wild Things Are” which flirted on the edge of boring us).
--MEN ONLY “ALLOW” WOMEN CERTAIN LIBERTIES AND FREEDOMS IN THEIR “ROLES” (talkin’ filmmakers now). SINCE MEN HAVE THE POWER, THEY ARE NEVER GOING TO ALLOW WOMEN ROLES THAT DISPLEASE THEM OR DISPLACE THEM. THESE MEN MAY NOT EVEN BE AWARE OF WHAT THEY ARE DOING. AND I’M NOT SAYING THIS IS NECESSARILY A BAD THING ALTHOUGH IT OFTEN IS—IN VARIED WAYS. SOMETIMES, IN A GOOD WAY, IT EVEN POINTS TO THE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCES IN MEN AND WOMEN THAT WILL NEVER BE OVERRIDEN BY ANY IDEOLOGY.
*Neither do humans. We ARE bodies.