Having found Spike Jonze’s Her to be boring and empty, I guess I should make it official before someone else does and call the time/date of Me being Dead Inside. Because it’s happened. Others I respect were blown away by it, swept away by it, calling it the Best Movie of the Year, etc. I thought it was pretty to look at (often totally arresting to look at: the landscapes are both familiar and alien, at the same time), and brought up interesting points about consciousness and love and alienation – concepts/themes that are very dear to my heart, but its hooks did not get into me. I did not perceive that there WERE hooks, although I did feel some minor snags here and there (one line in particular about how he is afraid that he has felt all the feelings he is going to feel in his life, that there is nothing new to feel anymore). Minor snags is not what Her is going for, and for me it skipped off the surface of its topic, skipped off and flew into the ether, un-grounded, un-attached, and ultimately un-memorable.
Lovely acting, it LOOKS gorgeous, but the spirit was missing. The aching heart was missing, although the language of the script and the music keeps pointing us in that direction. But for me, there was no there there. Stranger Than Fiction, a film with similar themes of identity, loneliness, and how hopelessly we are trapped in our own set of given circumstances (fictional or real), rocked me to my core and remains a favorite. Her wants to be that. Joaquin Phoenix, excellent as always, is playing that. But Her remains enclosed in its own autumnally-color-coded self-absorption. It does not break free from its own structure. The points are made in the language we hear in the script (often a red flag that something is wrong overall). But the film felt strangely static, silent, with no electrical charge between the various molecules. You may say to me, “But that is the point!” And then I would say back, “Then why the hell should I watch?” Plenty of films address alienation and isolation and loneliness in a way that makes me want to watch, however painful the topic may be. One could even posit that the only question worth asking while we are here on this planet is: “How can I connect with my fellow man? Is it even possible?” So the questions addressed in Her are not new or revelatory, and plenty of other films have done it way better. The only time Her really came to life for me was in the fragmented flashbacks we get, with no dialogue, where we see Phoenix and Rooney Mara having their relationship that has since broken up. These flashbacks are wordless glimpses only, a small flip-book of remembered fights and remembered whimsy and they feel alive and charming and heartbreaking, an impressionistic sketch, where we fill in the blanks. How do you “capture” a relationship without any dialogue? How do you present an entire marriage with no conversation? These moments seen (or, more accurately, glimpsed) are poignant because they feel so real, so fresh, so fully inhabited: these sections look like the way memories actually feel (if you follow me). Memories are not linear, memories are not neat. They are a collage of impressions. Her gets that. But to what end? It just made the rest of the film seem pale and colorless. And the ending was tone-deaf. [SPOILERY COMMENT] Two silhouetted figures staring at a sunrise, together, her head on his shoulder. Really? A joint plunge off the top of that tall building would have been better. Then I would believe that Her had the strength of its convictions.
It kept reminding me of other things. Sometimes this is good, other times not so much because what I was thinking was along the lines of: “God, this was done so much better in …” I kept thinking of Blade Runner, or, more specifically, Philip Dick’s original source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There is even a video game Phoenix’s character plays every night which has similarities to the all-encompassing “empathy box” in Dick’s novel, where you live vicariously and practice empathy through a Sisyphean type character struggling up a dirt hill. Dick’s book asks questions like: What is reality? Who can say what is real and what is not real? If I feel something to be true, and if I believe it to be true, and if I can actually touch and hold that thing, then who can tell me that what I perceive is not true?
Her approaches that territory but merely skates around on the pretty and alien surface of it, hoping we will fill in the blanks with our own yearnings and hopefulness. But the film is missing that ephemeral something, that vast and endless center that sets the echoes reverberating. I forgot half of the film 10 minutes after I left the screening.
I loved the trailer for Her, and have loved Spike Jonze’s other stuff. I was looking forward to Her with tremendous anticipation. This seems like a movie I would have thrilled to, responded to. I went in fully expecting to adore it. The theme of Unrequited Love is very personal to me, as well as the themes of isolation and prolonged heartbreak. But Her missed the mark.