‘Her’ (dir. Spike Jonze)

*Disclaimer…I haven’t posted a review in like 4 months [holy crap] so I think I am a bit rusty…but sometimes a film comes along that you just can’t help but want to write about…so here goes.*


“Her”, Spike Jonze’s latest creation, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a writer who falls in love with his operating system. It is the sort of synopsis that would make anyone do a double take, and for good reason. There is a cheesy B-horror movie in there somewhere. However, in the hands of Jonze, who approaches the story and its characters with just the right level of serious sentiment and carefree whimsy, this tale of man and machine not only feels less ridiculous than it sounds, but is also arguably the most fitting romance for a society that is nose deep in the dawn of a technological revolution.

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Phoenix plays Theodore, a quiet man left emotionally detached following the divorce with his childhood sweetheart. The only emotions he can seemingly express now are artificial, literally created to write love letters for other people as part of his job. So it comes as no surprised then that the first real connection he makes in over a year is with an artificial intelligence, a new OS by the name of Samantha. She is generated based on a quick questionnaire to be his perfect “other half” and do everything from helping him organize his life to keeping him company at night. Because she offers intimacy, with few complications beyond not having a physical body, Theodore soon finds himself attracted to her ever evolving intelligence and the sense of wonder she expresses in experiencing the world for the first time.

​In a sense, Samantha becomes his “rebound”, but because of her unique existence she does not just reawakening Theodore’s interest in love and relationships, allowing him to simply move on. Instead, her personal growth and struggles with discovering emotion also give Theodore a whole new perspective on what it actually means to love and be loved.

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Love, like Samantha, is an ever evolving state, one that takes time, devotion and can make us do crazy things. How we love is often based on the things that made us who we are, like the relationships we had with our mothers; a question asked when Samantha is created. Love is, as one character puts it, also “a socially acceptable form of insanity”. As love changes so do we, and vice versa. Often, these changes happen faster or sooner than expected, or in ways we might not have imagined or ever saw coming. We often blame ourselves when love fails, or avoid it all together in fear of that failure. But, love isn’t something that can so be so easily controlled, explained or forgotten. The person you’ve loved and shared your life with since an early age might grow distant and hateful. Or, maybe you will develop affection for a voice inside your computer. What becomes important then, through all life’s trials and adversities, is that you never lose that ability to love.

This has become harder and harder. As technology has advanced over the years, as clichéd as it may sound, we have become more connected virtually and more disconnected socially than ever before. “Her” seems to explore how this has had an effect on how we are able to handle our emotions or express ourselves to one another without some sort of filter. Samantha in the beginning, in all her virtual glory, can easily love and be loved. However, as she evolves and discovers things such as physics and philosophy, even she finds emotions far more complicated than maybe even Theodore could imagine them being. Therefore, he is left as witness to the full evolution of love, for that is what Samantha is, pure love. Eventually it grows beyond his control and it is up to him to take the next steps.

I guess what I am trying to say is maybe all we need to do is unplug – forget about how love does or should work, stop wishing for it and everything else to be so damn perfect and simply embrace the insanity.

Of course it isn’t all as simple as that, and it would require spoiling the film to go any deeper.

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Visually, the film has a subtle beauty. A lot of thought and detail clearly went into the design of the film, from the awkward looking clothing to the muted color scheme, enough to make a second viewing necessary to truly appreciate all the imagery. What I loved most about the future Jonze envisions, is that there are no cars, smog, steaming vents or flashing lights. This isn’t a future of excess. It is quite the opposite actually, as if our inability to express has seeped its way into the city streets.

The performances are superb. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect for the role, bringing equal amounts of reserve and raw emotion. Scarlet Johansson is truly brilliant as Samantha. I honestly feel like she expressed more with just her voice than many other actors have done with their entire bodies this year. Whether it is sultry flirting, heartache, or a child-like enthusiasm, each emotion comes across clear and with depth. Amy Adams also plays a small, but rather important role, as Theodore’s friend and neighbor. This is Adams at her most loving and adorable, the polar opposite of her role in “American Hustle”; a perfect example at just how talented she is.

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As it stands, and probably always will, this is my favorite film of 2013. “Her” is on the same wave-length as “Lost in Translation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. Fans of those two films will find Jonze’s work strikes the same emotional chords, but also remains its own unique work of art, one of pure bliss and enlightenment. Go see it if you have the chance. 

44 Days of Paranoia #32: The Purge (dir by James DeMonaco)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the more unexpected box office successes of 2013, The Purge.

The Purge takes place in the year 2022.  In some ways, America is much the same as it is today but in other ways, it is significantly different.  Unemployment is down to 1% and crime rates have plunged.  Before you can say, “So, this is what we have to look forward to once Obama is no longer President,” we are told that America is now being led by the “New Founding Fathers.”

We also learn that every year, for one 12-hour period, all crime is legal.  The Purge is designed to act as a catharsis, a time for the American people to release all of their pent-up frustrations and act on all the desires that the government has since forbidden.  As the film opens, we listen to people discussing how they’re going to celebrate 2022’s Purge.  Some say that they’re going to stay inside and keep their doors locked.  Another brags about how he’s planning to take the opportunity to murder his boss.

The Purge has also created an entirely new economy that is completely centered around preparing for the Purge.  As a result, men like James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) have become millionaires by selling home security systems.  The Purge opens with James pulling up in front his gigantic mansion, going inside, and getting his family prepared for that night’s Purge.

When the Purge begins, James, his wife (Lena Headey), and his family believe themselves to be safe inside their mansion.  However, things don’t go quite as planned.  For one thing, daughter Zooey’s (Adelaide Kane) older boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) is hiding out in the house.  Henry knows that James doesn’t approve of him but is convinced that he can either change James’s mind or, failing that, simply kill him while it’s perfectly legal to do so.

An even bigger complication arises when a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge) approaches the house and begs to be let in.  When James’s son opens the door to the man, the house is suddenly surrounded by a group of masked purgers who demand that the stranger be sent back out.  When the purgers start to attack, the Sandins’s jealous neighbors suddenly see a chance to take out their own resentments on James and his family…

The Purge got terrible reviews but, judging from its box office success, it obviously struck a nerve with audiences.  And why not?  Like many so-called exploitation films, The Purge may not be subtle but it does manage to perfectly capture the fears and prejudices that everyone in the audience has.   I saw The Purge when it was first released and then I recently rewatched it on DVD and I have to say that I was a little surprised to discover just how well The Purge holds up to repeat viewings.   The Purge is effective because, as over-the-top as it may seem, it’s still a disturbingly plausible portrait of the type of society that our “leaders” seem to be so eager to create.

As a side note, shortly after the film completed its initial run, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the Trayvon Martin case and I can still remember seeing hundreds of people on twitter saying that it was time to have a real-life Purge in Florida, which indicates how much of a part of the popular culture this film became.  It’s not surprising that a sequel is going to be released in 2014.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire