Oscar Review: HER
by Witney Seibold on January 30, 2014
Witney has been handicapping and reviewing each of the nine films nominated for this year’s Best Picture Oscar. Today, he looks at Spike Jonze’s Her, declared by Nerdist to be the best film of 2013.
Nerdist’s own Dan Casey already hit the nail on the head with Spike Jonze’s Her (his review can be read here), so I will declare the following in addition: Her is one of the most intelligent sci-fi films of the year. While most sci-fi films of recent vintage have been of the frustratingly fantastical variety (think of the tiresomely ubiquitous superhero genre, or perhaps stop thinking about it if you can), there have been a small number of surprisingly thoughtful – if not entirely successful – science fiction films that actually do what sci-fi does best; that is, use technology and space travel to explore coded questions about humanity at large. Films like Prometheus, Cloud Atlas, and Ender’s Game all bother to ask questions about ethics and philosophy and theology.
Her is a sci-fi film (set in a world where hipsters have essentially taken over) that asks questions about how we relate to our technology (a story about a man essentially falling in love with his iPhone seems particularly timely), and explores how the virtual online world of artifice can easily and unnoticeably take over any sort of real-world interaction without anyone thinking it’s a dystopian collapse (Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, writes professional love letters). There is certainly something melancholic about the virtual replacing the real, but Her is canny in the way it doesn’t judge its characters. This is not about the dark takeover by technology (see Demon Seed for that), but about the current way we tend to fill emotional holes in our lives with widgets, and how, for many people, that can be satisfying and natural, especially for emotionally shy and romantic souls like Theodore Twombly.
More than anything, though, Her uses our current obsession with technology to explore the way we love. When we fall in love, we tend to place the object of our affection on a pedestal. We worship them. We convert that person into an unsullied God or Goddess, occupying a metaphysical space of pure emotion. What better way to exemplify that intense notion of first love than by replacing the object of your affection with a being that, well, has no body? Note that the film is called Her and not Us. Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, replacing Samantha Morton’s vocal track) is the perfect mate in that she exists only to be thought about, pined after, loved. Theodore is a romantic, which is another way of saying that he still has adolescent views of romance. He wants pure love, but is unprepared to have a relationship with a real human being who is not ideal, and who has thoughts, flaws, and foibles of their own.
But, again, Theodore is not judged for this. He is not seen as pathetic or lesser a human being for wanting to date an Operating System. It seems to be the natural state of things. By the film’s end, when his relationship with Samantha seems to be coming to an end (of course it would have to), we see him growing up. A break-up can break our hearts, but they can also make us grow up.
Her is a great sci-fi film and a great romance, impeccably designed and gorgeously realized. Will it win the Best Picture Oscar? I think not. I think Academy voters like to reward the occasional peculiar filmmaker, and Spike Jonze has caught their attention a few times in the past, but his comparatively unusual films are still too odd to ever beat out the usual hanky-fests that tend to win. Her could win Best Screenplay, although I think it may lose to American Hustle. Indeed, Her will likely get snubbed this year.
Odds to win: 15:1