Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Her (Spike Jonze)

Lying on the moon.

For years immemorial, films are not entirely reserved in their use of artificial intelligence as a way to prove a point regarding the human condition. We've witnessed HAL 9000's descent into computerized ruthlessness when he tried to murder David Bowman in "2001: A Space Odyssey". We've seen "Blade Runner's" Roy Batty, a humanoid replicant, cry his heart out regarding his memories "that will be lost in time like tears in the rain." And just recently, we felt all there is to feel when Sam Rockwell's astronaut character in "Moon" found out about the painful truth about himself, all while Gerty, a good guy version of HAL, shows primitive signs of compassion and morality in the background. Yes, I admit, I did shed some tears when I saw "Moon" for the second time. And while we're at it, I swear I also quietly wept for a few minutes after seeing Spielberg's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence".  

Perhaps in more ways than one, indeed we've really reached a phase in cinema where we may cry not much anymore about the tragedy of human relationships but more about man's inability to grasp his real place in the universe. Unofficially, I would want to call our generation the 'sci-fi film mopers'. What that really means, I don't exactly know for sure, but I really think we are the kind that would brood about the relentless progress of technology because of how it redefines life as we know it, and love as how we feel it. "Her", Spike Jonze's first ever feature-length love story, firmly takes on its effects on the latter, questioning how will the notions of romance adopt to our ever-advancing world without losing so much as a spark. The film is very romantic in a very sad, 'your lover's hand is slowly slipping off yours' way, but very hopeful in its view of the modern sentient man's ability to love the intangible. Without a doubt, the film is a tender reminder that sublime cinema is not all the time built around harsh themes and provocative storylines. And as simple as "Her" is, there is still a pervasive sense of philosophical depth in its every scene and moment that the film itself seems a miraculous feat in its own right. 

Spike Jonze, a filmmaker whose two major works, "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation.", exemplify what cinematic oddity should be, proves in this film that he can indeed stand on his own without Charlie Kaufman on scribe duty. But more importantly, there's finally something in "Her" that has slightly been amiss in his past films: a beating heart.

Judging by "Her's" story of a letter writer who falls deeply and madly in love with his operating system, it is easy to dismiss the film as a gimmicky project that merely capitalizes on the currency of Siri. On paper, it's nothing but a piece of 'what if' story that seems lucky enough to even be green-lit by a production outfit. It is a story that's as far-fetched as it is entirely ludicrous. But hey, so is "The Running Man", but look at how prophetic and potent its commentary on reality shows has ultimately become. Look at "The Truman Show". Look at "Network". Again, look at "Her". Goddamn, that last sentence reads so beautifully.

Anyway, if we finally get through the superficial uniqueness of the story, "Her" is actually a film whose emotional quality is of the highest order. Honestly, it's been a very long time since I last cried watching a film (the weeping episodes I have mentioned above were like ages ago), so when I finally did once again, I was kind of like cleansed. It was therapeutic in a way knowing that I wept over a film that's close to perfect, but quite pathetic on my part for not bringing with me a box of Kleenex. Instead, a pillow became the proxy absorber of my tears. It was quite a 2-hour experience now forever fossilized in the corners of my memories, and I'm quite sure that it won't leave anytime soon. 

For sure, many people will surely remember this film mainly for its concept and perhaps not much else, but for me, what I will hold dearly in my heart about it are the performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and, of course, Scarlett Johansson, who provided her voice for the OS Samantha (who deservedly won the Best Actress award at the 2013 Rome Film Festival). More than the story, what makes "Her" so much more than an ordinary sci-fi drama is how well the three of them has handled the film's seemingly ridiculous premise (in some respect) while at the same time lighting up the screen with the most intimate kind of chemistry. Also, from the very first time Joaquin Phoenix's character appeared on screen with that extreme close-up of him dictating to his computer a touching letter supposedly sent by a husband to his wife, rapport was instantly established. 

This man right here, named Theodore Twombly, is someone who writes love letters to all kinds of people every single day but is devoid of love himself. Now estranged from his wife, he visibly trudges through life like an invisible man, aware of the technological advancement happening around him but is oblivious of his need for affection. Along then comes Samantha, a new, state-of-the-art OS who is as intelligent (or even more so) as an actual person. Slowly but tenderly, they were able to nurture a different kind of romance that knows no judgments and knows no bounds. Should I say that it was love at first click? 

Unexpectedly, Theodore finds himself once again falling fully for a woman who truly essentiates love, but this time without a body for him to hold and a face for him to touch. I think this is where "Her", as an essay about the beauty of unconditional romance, really excels. 

Throughout the historical course of both literature and film, more often than not, technology has always been seen as this frail substitute to real human connection. Surprisingly, "Her" is, if my memory serves me well, the very first film that I have seen which looks upon technology not as something that cripples our emotional capacity but as something that actually improves our ability to care. "Her", a visual love poem fitting for our times, embraces the inner heartbroken outcasts in us that yearn for someone ideal even if truly imperceptible to the eye. Indeed, there's something so perfect in that which we cannot see but can nonetheless feel, and there's also something so extraordinary in a film so awfully simple and silently bittersweet yet can make your heart cave in and your eyes swell in tears. "Her", for a lack of a better description, is the ultimate 'feel' trip of our generation.

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