My Favourite Films of All Time: Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)
Bear in mind that I don't say that easily, I see a lot of films and most of the them are either good or great. But after seeing Her for the first time, I left the screening thinking "holy shit, I just saw genius at work." My expectations are high with Spike Jonze, he's a director who's work cannot be taken at face value. In any of his projects including Skate films, I always look deeper into the meaning of the work I'm seeing in front of me. I mean sure, I'm probably going too far with it but then again, Film is a series of still images making up the illusion of motion, right?
Spike Jonze is a master of his craft. He knows exactly what he wants to make and will make it so utterly compelling and beautiful, it's difficult not to get lost in his universe he creates for the stories.
I compare Spike to his friend and frequent collaborator Charlie Kauffman. Like Spike, Charlie is also a genius. Synecdoche, New York, in terms of rankings, is most definitely my favourite film of all time. While I really do appreciate a good narrative that can stand on its own with a single viewing, I am particularly into narratives which will make me go over and over and over the film so many times to understand it. Synecdoche, New York has the overarching theme of death. Every shot, background discussion, note on a whiteboard points to death and helps guide us as an audience to the central theme of the story. The film's literal story is about how we as human beings are heading towards the final destination of death. There is no pot of gold, no prize for competing in what we call life. It also explores the lengths some (many of the people reading this I'd expect) go to making our imprint on the world, to make it seem our life is worth something to more than those closest to us.
Like the theme of death in Synecdoche, New York, Her has the theme of love, but particularly loneliness. What I knew would work before seeing the film is Spike's vision of the 'future'. He's phenomenal at realising his 'vision'. Da Funk, Sabotage, even this week's perfume short for KENZO. You can tell, what you're seeing in front of you is exactly what Spike saw in his mind, on the storyboards, in the first draft of this incredible screenplay.
The date is never stated, though this might annoy some audiences, I think it's one of the best decisions of the entire narrative. We can tell it's not too distant because LA and Singapore are instantly recognisable. The idea of a voice as an OS isn't exactly far off either, in fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that in 10 years, Apple Earpiece will be out and we'll have Siri talking to us in a colloquial and friendly manner. Spike Jonze knows where to set these narratives, he knows when to set them. He doesn't need to flat out state the time for this story to make sense.
Theodore is a very universal and relatable character. A majority of the audience would understand and empathise with him. You don't need to be in similar circumstances to him either. You can struggle with relationships by just coming out of one or even if you struggle with the idea of starting one initially. It was a character I empathised with immediately during the first viewing. Samantha is, to me, the most convincing OS I've heard. Again, the setting makes the idea of a casual OS talking to you very natural. Samantha works. I know some are really against the way Samantha comes off, but I think it's perfect.
Samantha evolves in a convincing yet interesting way. She learns via the Internet, via Theodore's emails, via conversation. You could've left it as learning from the Internet and that would be enough, it would work. But learning via conversation makes this so convincing. The first 15mins feature Theodore's former OS, a robot reading articles, the weather, your email. It sounds very current. It sounds ready for an upgrade. So when Theodore gets this new OS, it feels like a natural progression. It sounds like what you'd expect Siri 2.0 to be like. It's an accurate prediction, especially as Siri will start being on OS X 10.11 later this month.
Her is, for me, the greatest romantic comedy ever made. When it smashes the conventions of the genre, Spike can explore these characters so much further than say a film like the Notebook, or Love Actually. We can see characters in positions that we wouldn't normally see. But this is perhaps the biggest gateway to the the way this film conveys society. In essence, this film is a commentary on society, how we are slowly being coming reliant on technology. If we replace the new-age tech in Her with our phones, smart watches and personal assistants on our current devices, this makes an accurate commentary. It's worth noting that even in this universe, there are some without these devices, it gives these 'extras' a much more realistic feel. It's not as if these Spike Jonze is shoehorning this commentary on society onto us like some have. It's presented to us, where the message is natural.
Hoyte van Hoytema isn't credited enough for his phenomenal eye and the way he shoots the projects he works on. Of course, it's not all him either. Spike is always adding his own touch to cinematography, he knows how to use a camera. The mise-en-scene of the film is a work of art. The choice in colour make the screen pop, at times making me gasp at how stunning a shot is. The industrial design of OS' and hardware match these colours perfectly, in a way that's naturally beautiful. Together, Jonze and Hoytema make a visually stunning world, combining the Cinematography and the Mise-en-scene together in an utterly gorgeous way.
The score written by Arcade Fire is beautifully natural and delicate. The light piano and soft strings make for a score that fits the relationship between Theodore and Samantha perfectly. At times, there isn't a score at all. I really commend Arcade Fire for making that decision. It's a rarity to have a film which is aware that a scene or a line of dialogue is so moving, so important that it requires the full attention of the audience. The impact of the radio silence in the background will be so much bigger on the audience. It's one of the many wise diversions from conventions in this film
The screenplay for this film whole-heartedly deserved the Academy Award. Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of the screenplay for Where The Wild Things Are. I found it to be, at times, lacklustre, though that's not to say it has it's strong points.
Her is Spike Jonze's greatest screenplay to date as it vividly explores these characters through complex and brilliantly suited dialogue. Every character has a personality and in no way do any of them feel the same. It was without a doubt the best screenplay of 2013.
Her is one of my favourite films of all time. The 'simple on paper' narrative is beautifully complex with characters with distinct and relatable personalities. The 'not to distant future' world isn't far off what would be predictable for where we will be in 20 years and makes us believe in this film's universe and everything happening within it. The visual aesthetic of this film is memorable and welcoming and sets it aside from any other film that's set in the 'future'. The score is beautiful and proves in some films, less is more. But above all of that, Spike Jonze has written believable dialogue, portrayed by characters who are relatable to the core. Though these actors were fantastic, it's Jonze's direction that drives the project. Spike Jonze is my favourite director. Her is his best work.
Dir: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquín Phoenix
Screenplay: Spike Jonze
Prod: Megan Ellison p.g.a
Spike Jonze p.g.a
Vincent Landay p.g.a
Music: Arcade Fire
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors (UK) Warner Bros (US)
Production: Annapurna Pictures