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Image: Warner Bros.
Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Average Rating
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Mpaa Rating
R (For language, sexual content and brief nudity)
Directed By
Spike Jonze
Run Time
2 hours 6 minutes
Joaquin Phoenix, Lynn Adrianna Freedman, Lisa Renee Pitts, Gabe Gomez
Theatre Release
January 10, 2014 by Warner Bros.

Her is not a conventional Christmas movie. If anything, its sherbet pastel color palette (reportedly inspired by smoothie chain Jamba Juice) lends the film an Easter flavor.

Set in Los Angeles of the near future (perhaps 50 years from now), Her follows lonely Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix, typically pitch perfect) as he purchases the world's first artificially intelligent smart phone. It's called OS1, and it's billed as "not just an operating system; a consciousness." Created to learn and evolve, Theodore's "OS," named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), quickly calculates the precise personality, affectation, and sense of humor that will best meet Theodore's needs. She "reads" entire books in less than a second, composes piano sonatas on the fly, and devours information, ideas, literature, and art with the voracious energy of a curious child. Yet Spike Jonze's creepy/sweet/profound film about a romance between a man and his (extremely) smart phone is Christmasy in spite of itself, for one main reason: it's a film about incarnation.

For Theodore, Samantha is more than the world's best personal assistant (think iPhone 50s). She's his dream girl.

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'
Warner Bros.

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Her'

Morose in the midst of a divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore is drawn to Samantha because she's genuinely excited about discovering the world. This is an all-too-rare disposition in a world where most humans walk around drone-like, talking to themselves (or rather their earpiece OS) rather than each other and preferring digital fictions to material realities.

Theodore's occupation is telling: he works for, a company where customers pay to have writers compose letters for loved ones which computers render in old-school penmanship. In the way that today's hipsters love all things artisan/analog/grandpa, Theodore's peers (in addition to dressing like Charlie Chaplin) see letters as a quaint, retro, alien form of communication which one pays top dollar to have a specialist compose.

Theodore earns a living communicating emotion for a populace presumably deficient in the art. In this world, communication itself has become a necessary nuisance. You need it to live, but it's devoid of pleasure and avoided whenever possible. Other people write intimate letters for you; your OS writes your e-mails, makes your calls, chooses and buys presents for your goddaughter, and navigates dicey dynamics with divorce lawyers.

Theodore is paid to know people better than they know themselves, to dig into their quirks and nuances to best capture how and what they love. This is also, of course, what Samantha does for Theodore. In this and many other ways she is a mirror for him, a reflektor (to use a neologism from Arcade Fire, who provide the soundtrack for the film and whose latest album is in part about connection in the digital age). Samantha is Theodore's idealized clone, more than a complementing soulmate. She doesn't judge; she never leaves; she understands him in ways no other human could.

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