There is a scene, my most favorite scene in the film, where the screen goes black. I shut my eyes for a while and had a smile on my face. Not because of what was going on the soundtrack but because I could sense the wonderful union of image, sound and ideas occurring on screen. It made me connect to my inner space and connect with the film without looking at it. I don’t remember any film in the history of cinema that has asked me to do that. Oh no, this isn’t something I wanted to do. Spike Jonze carefully asked me to do it.
Vision. This is that moviemaking arena, which filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and recently, Christopher Nolan are masters of. Their grand schemes and big ideas usually make us believe we are watching the works of a visionary, which hold true for these guys more than any other filmmaker. Her isn’t a film which has sweeping images or obviously indulging visual majesty. Its vision is held in the palm of a human hand. It can be felt. It shows that you don’t need the genres of science fiction or fantasy to make films with compelling vision. You can make films about people with the grandest vision possible.
Joaquin Phoenix is an actor with copious amounts of talent. This character could have been a creepy loser but Phoenix makes him real and surprisingly relatable. One small misstep and this could have gone into the lampoonist territory. Scarlett Johansson has never been an actress I found more than just a good-looking star. Her work in Woody Allen’s films has been impressive but she was yet to become more than just a voluptuously seductive movie star. Whoever thought she would give her best performance with just her voice. If there is a performance that is unfairly overlooked this awards season, it is this one.
The cinematography is astoundingly brilliant. Hoyte van Hoytema, who gets into the skin of the material and superbly illustrates it, has a remarkable resume to his credit – Let the Right One In (2008) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) are visual artifacts. I’m looking forward to his work on Nolan’s next – Interstellar. The film’s imagery is further substantiated by the striking production design created by K.K. Barrett and the sets realized by Gene Serdena. Arcade Fire is one of the best indie rock bands. The glistering score is provided by the band and the newest touring member - Owen Pallett. Many musicians have been getting into film scoring. Results like this make me wish more artists are given a chance to create such stunning works of aural relish. There is also a lovely song called The Moon Song attached to the film sung by Karen O (the lead singer of another fantastic contemporary band - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
Spike Jonze has made inventive films like Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation. (2002) and Where the Wild Things Are (2009). His first two films were written by Charlie Kaufman. I often wondered whether the genius lied in Kaufman’s writing or Jonze’s vision. Especially when Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, directed by Michel Gondry) showed similar ingenious screenwriting pattern. Her confirms that he Jonze is indeed an artist to behold. Rarely do we see science fiction about human emotions. I look at his filmography differently now. Not to mention the fact that he acted in The Wolf of Wall Street and also produced Bad Grandpa. Brownie points!
I don’t usually name each department of filmmaking and get into intellectual appreciation of film techniques unless they blow my socks off. This is one of those cases where each aspect of filmmaking creates one unified work of art.
If you want to deconstruct Her, it boils down to one simple thing: How a man learns to have a relationship with himself. How he begins to understand his own projection of a romantic relationship. That is, how a human being starts to love himself or in this case, “her”self. We all have the Ying and Yang duality in us. The Shiva and the Shakti. Her underlines that we are all reacting to mere illusions of ourselves and the constructs in our minds of her + him = us.
A friend of mine told me she thought this film was about long distance relationships. Another one told me it’s about our dependence on technology. The mark of a great film is when all of these interpretations hold true. None are wrong. For me, it was about letting go of your baggage and learning to love yourself. Connecting with your inner self. For you to understand love, you need to love yourself first. Now imagine this message (or the one on long distance relationships or technology) being given by any other movie. It could have been a lesser film with overt intellectual spoon-feeding. Now stop imagining and start watching it the way Spike Jonze tells it to you. Owing to this unique vision, it becomes a saga of our times. A saga of human interaction and communication.
Everything about her is beautiful.