Friday, January 24, 2014

Jason watches HER

Well, that doesn't sound creepy at all, does it?

Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, and especially Scarlett Johansson take the old adage about the biggest erogenous zone being the brain to its logical extreme. Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a writer who works for an online service that creates beautiful handwritten letters for people. He composes the touching, romantic, friendly, tragic thoughts that people can't write for themselves. He's also going through a divorce, is kind of depressed, and stays up at night having anonymous online sex with strangers (one of whom asks him to pretend he's strangling her with a dead cat, but that's another story.) Scarlett Johansson is Samantha, the voice of his new computer OS, an advanced AI with the ability to learn from its experiences. And they fall in love....

Now I think this movie becomes a Rorschach test for your opinions on love. Their relationship is presented as...while not commonplace, at least plausible enough that it happens to other people and it's accepted (more or less.) So the audience's reaction--is he lonely and isolated? Is their love real? Does the lack of a physical body make it unreal?--says more about the audience than about the movie. And so I, as the reviewer, have to give my opinion which means I have to reveal at least something of my philosophy of love--something I've never articulated before and I admit it's kind of scary.

Well, let's start with this: their relationship is real. No doubt in my mind about that. He certainly feels it's real (we have the benefit of his physical reactions as well as his words to confirm that) and judging by her words I assume she feels it's real. That's another important point, I never for a second doubted that she feels. Is he lonely and isolated? Maybe, a little bit, at the beginning. He's certainly in a funk, depressed about his failed marriage. But there are plenty of indications that in good times he's a happy, friendly, social guy (one of the first things Samantha notices in going through his contacts list is that he's a pretty popular guy. So I don't buy into the premise that he falls for his OS out of some mis-connection with real human beings. They just talked and...just hit it off. Most normal thing in the world.

Their relationship isn't perfect, but whose is? He gets into a funk after signing the divorce papers, mainly because his ex-wife mocks him for "dating his laptop" but to me that played out as his ex being kind of a spiteful bitch trying to wound his new relationship and him--unfortunately--taking the bait. They have an awkward experience and a fight when she tries to bring a surrogate into the relationship--someone to provide the body she lacks. But that's just an example of one partner trying to add something new to the bedroom and the other partner not liking it. That happens in relationships where both partners have a body, too.

In fact, I see that as the key to the movie. They have neither difficulties nor joys that don't have an analog in a "normal" person-on-person relationship. By examining their happiness and their fights they put a microscope on all relationships.

And now I'm going to stop before I get myself into trouble.

But there is one nagging thought that keeps coming back to me. I fully accept her reality--as real as any woman--because of the effect she has on him. So is this a feminist movie because it can portray a fully female character--with hopes, fears, joy, sorrow, all the realm of feelings--without needing a hot body and a perfectly airbrushed face? Or is it profoundly anti-feminist for making the defining characteristic of its female lead be her effect on the male lead?

I'm not going to try and answer that.

Running Time: 126 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,695

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