Tech-centric ‘Her’ surprisingly human

By on January 29, 2014

Watching “Her,” I was struck by the fact that what I was watching was either the most romantic, sweet-natured movie I’ve seen in many a moon- or the scariest horror movie.

As the story progressed, I couldn’t help but think of HAL, the artificially-intelligent computer of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and thinking: boy, if that computer had the voice of Scarlett Johansson, I’d be so screwed if I were Dave.

It just goes to show you how crucial casting is with things like “Her.”

I mean, come on: it’s a voiceover, right? She’s not even technically in the movie! And yet, she truly is, in all the ways that count.

Think about it this way. What if the voice Joaquin Phoenix heard was, say, Fran Drescher, of “The Nanny”? It’d be a completely different movie- certainly more of a comedy, at the very least. But with Scarlett behind the wheel- or the drive, as it were (pun intended this time) – it totally works.

You fully buy that a lonely guy going through a heartbreaking divorce would fall for a SIRI-type operation system with a consciousness that grows as “she” learns more and more about the world and assimilates all of the information rapidly being uploaded every day, both from her interactions with Theodore (Phoenix) and from surveying the wealth of information at her metaphoric fingertips via the internet.

As Samantha learns, she becomes more and more human, until, perhaps inevitably, she wants more.

But what can you do if you’re more of a program than an actual living, breathing person? The remainder of the movie deals with that quandary and it’s a fascinating one, and not one with an easy resolution, to be sure.

Set in the not-so-distant future, “Her” imagines a world in which people are rarely without computers at the ready.

Not that we’re too far away from that already, but the film works precisely because it’s not too far-fetched to believe something like this actually happening.

It used to be if you saw someone walking down the street talking to themselves, you assumed they had a mental illness of some kind or the like.

Now it’s just as likely, if not more so, that they’re actually talking to someone on a Bluetooth or something of that nature.

Can something like we see in “Her” really be that far off? The question is, is that a good thing? Will it end well? Or will we become a nation of shut-ins who’d rather interact with virtual people than real ones?

That said, as key as believability and the casting of the readily identifiable and sexy/husky voice of Scar Jo is, Phoenix may well be the real reason it works in the end.

After all, everything was pretty much shot when Johansson was brought in to re-record things from scratch. If her voice helps to convince the viewer a guy could fall in love with a computer, then it’s Phoenix that sells it.

“Her” is a beautifully rendered, deeply felt movie that will get you thinking at the same time it pulls at your heartstrings. It earns a well-deserved A+.

Director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) who I love, but whose work has always seemed a bit too arch and arty for its own good, really outdoes himself with the script, which he wrote and marks his first such effort to make it to the big screen.

Here’s hoping it’s not his last, because Jonze’s work has never felt more alive or human which is pretty ironic.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
  • gnosticmike

    Don’t forget about “Electric Dreams,” where a guy basically buys a state-of-the-art computer in 1984 that falls “in love” with an attractive neighbor. The guy and computer compete for the affections of said neighbor after a drink spills on its keyboard and displays ‘Johnny Five’-type behavior (intelligence and emotion.) ^.^

    • Mark Trammell

      Never saw it. Will have to check it out! Did they have artifically intelligent computer programs back then, or was this a futuristic sci-fi thing? (Like “2001”)

      • Mark Trammell

        Also, what’s “Johnny Five”?

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