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For Your Consideration: 'Her'

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Her, directed by Spike Jonze
The Academy Award nomination for Best Picture that went to Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and -- yes -- writing credits for various absurdities in the Jackass franchise, the approximate modern equivalent of the lazzi of commedia dell'arte, for which I have a weakness), came as a shock. Sure, the concept is timely, involving an asocial man (Joaquin Phoenix, an example of both typecasting and how mustaches can be fatally cheesy) who falls in love with an artificial intelligence, in this case a fancy new operating system (given voice by Scarlett Johansson). Yes, the movie has an intriguing look, a sort of alternate-universe Los Angeles (probably not enough to steal the Production Design award from Gravity), where our hero floats along between his job, writing copy for personalized, handwritten notes made to order, and his equally disconnected home life (video games, Internet sex -- online voices snuck in by SNL stars Bill Hader and the insane Kristen Wiig). After only a few minutes just watching him live it, one can easily see how he could be seduced by nothing more than a voice in his ear bud that sounds interested in him.

The story has a good hook and the screenplay says a lot in relatively few words, so although it would be an unusual choice to win Best Original Screenplay, for which Jonze is nominated, it does not seem impossible. There was talk of a Best Actress nomination for Johansson, something that thankfully was ruled out on the technicality that one could not be nominated in that category for a voice-over. Her voice, seductive as it is, was not part of the film until late in the game, because the character was first portrayed by Samantha Morton, whom you may recall as the "precog" kidnapped by Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The operating system's name, Samantha, remains as a sort of relic of her presence, but it is an apt symbol of the disconnection of Phoenix's character, Theodore Twombly, that he is actually reacting to a voice that is even less "real" -- because it was replaced in post-production -- than the voice of the operating system we hear. The last real person connected to Theodore, other than an equally lost friend (Amy Adams), is his ex-girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), and she has the right idea.

Other Reviews:

New York Times | Washington Post | The New Yorker | The Atlantic | L.A. Times
Wall Street Journal | David Edelstein | Christian Science Monitor | TIME

The overall theme of Her, if I may distill it down to one theme, is the dystopian future that may not really feel like a dystopia at all, at least on the surface. As many people feel today, the people of this unspecified future are more "connected" than ever and yet are completely disengaged from one another. They yearn for authentic human contact, but they have no way of distinguishing the authentic from the imitation -- like someone receiving one of Theodore's handwritten notes, ingeniously conceived and executed to appear real; or like Theodore himself, falling in love with that thing installing itself on his computer. In the same way, the original music, by William Butler and Owen Pallett (two members of the Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire), is meant to feel authentic but, in the end because the operating system demonstrates how easily it can synthesize music, it too feels suspiciously fabricated by machine. The Academy Award for Best Original Score, for which Butler and Pallett were nominated, is not out of the question. Even more likely, the award for Best Original Song may go to The Moon Song, which the man and his operating system create together (the actual song is by Karen O, vocalist of the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Spike Jonze). It is one of the film's more memorable sequences (embedded below) -- hey, even Rocky had a montage.

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