I was going to originally title this review ‘A Movie By Narcissists, About Narcissists, for Narcissists,’ but, honestly, that seemed kind of mean. Although, it is kind of how I feel. To be more accurate I should have titled it ‘A Movie For Middle Aged White People, Who Wallow In Their Self Imposed, Arrested Development Enabled, Loneliness,’ but that also would be kind of mean, and also a little too long(Not that I’m normally concerned with brevity). It would be accurate, though, at least in terms of how I feel about the flick. Oh, I didn’t really like it all that much.
I’ve always like Spike Jonze, both as a director and actor. He has a really unique point of view, and a really great visual sense. All of his movies, whether you like them are not, are interesting. From Being John Malkovich to Where the Wild Things Are all offer up beautifully trippy aesthetics, and a subtle and quiet sense of humanity. He comes off as a story teller that is extremely sensitive, and can subtlety bring forth the human element in stories that might seem in synopsis to be somewhat alienating. The thing is, though, that all of his previous works are written by other people, and he is, ostensibly, adapting other people’s work. It’s his perspective of somebody else’s story. So, what happens when he writes and directs, and is the sole arbiter of creation? Well, you get Her.
Man, in the future middle aged, soft spoken, white, “creative types” really got it bad, huh? They have to deal with feelings, and the emotions those feeling make them have, and wearing high waisted pants that make them look like dicks all the time. Man, rough stuff. Okay, okay, I’ll stop. That’s not really being fair, and is a little reductive. I’ll stop being a turd. That’s all surface level stuff, and while those elements are annoying, they wouldn’t destroy the film. Not on their own. Definitely contributing factors, though.
I really hate feeling so cynical about this movie. I really do. It has a lot of really interesting concepts and ideas that never feel like anything more than trite, saccharine, ponderings of the films self absorbed characters. It permeates the proceedings to such a degree that by the time the credits started rolling I found myself aggravated, not angry, mind you. I don’t “hate” this movie, in fact, I wholeheartedly agree, and even appreciate the film’s thesis, concerning it’s statements about the nature of love and connectivity.
Her has a really interesting, vaguely futuristic back drop, and gives you brief glimpses of the society that has sprung up around it. It’s all very subtle(There’s that word again) in it’s approach to what “ideological” place people are at in this future. The only thing that seems to be clear is that people seem to be very accepting. You never get a good sense of the world, in a broad sense, but, in fairness, that’s not what the film’s aim is. It is a hyper personal story, about a man who falls in love with a computer program, and largely focuses on solely that, which is part of my problem, honestly. The movie is almost entirely devoid of any actual drama up until it’s last act. There’s a few moments here and there, like, a blind date that doesn’t end well, or a scene when the main character has to finally sign his divorce papers that he’s been sitting on for close to a year. But even these scenes are done in a such a non-confrontational, soft spoken way, that it’s hard to tell if they actually have any impact. I mean, they obviously do, but only because the conclusions are pretty much just spoken out loud.
Everyone around the main character treats his situation with open arms, and almost seem to imply a stance of “Oh how cool. Neato, buddy! You’re so brave.” I know they weren’t trying to go for absolute realism, but I have to imagine that some folks, even in a high waisted pants, progressive future, would take at least a little bit of issue, or display some discomfort by the situation. You know, so there would be a sense of conflict, or something. A reason for him to fight for what he loves. It’s clear that at first he’s uncomfortable with how he feels about Samantha, and it takes him awhile to tell his friends about it, because of obvious reasons. So, why doesn’t the film indulge, at least a little, in these fears. Doing that would force the character to consider why he has fallen for a computer program, and then fight for what he believes in, but then that would create some actually drama…
To me, adding some tension, beyond the main characters personal feelings, would drive home the film’s central theme. Love, true love, is an abstraction, and really only exists as an intellectual idea. It doesn’t exist in a tangible space, and only exists in corporeal form through expressions. Like, kissing, giving a hug, having sex, writing a poem, or tossing a meaningful glance someone’s way, but none of those things, and I know there are a lot more, do not necessarily denote “love.” Like I said, they are physical representations of “love,” or, sometimes, a lie meant of to give off the air of “love,” to attain a lustful, physical desire. So, in regards to Her, forcing the character to come to this conclusion through some type of strife would have at least made for a more interesting viewing experience. It would have forced the character to deal with outside perception, and serve as a reaffirmation about the way he feels, and give some strength to his resolve outside of his own feelings of “I just love what I love, man.”
That’s my main issue with the characters in this film, although, other than the main character, I don’t know if you can really call the other people in this film characters, Everything is entirely predicated on the self. Specifically, themselves, and only how they “feel” is given any significance. They are so singularly minded that they feel more like caricatures than actual human beings that have lives outside of their own social circles. It speaks to the modern affectation of only caring about yourself, and about how you “feel,” dealing with feelings as if they posit truth or reality. It’s a narcissists justification for being a narcissist. The thing is your “feelings” can be broadly described as the fuel of your perception, and perception isn’t reality. It’s reality through a personal filter, and isn’t predicated on cold hard truths or facts. Without having to actually face reality, you don’t grow, because if everything only exists in your perception of it, than there is nothing to expose flaws in your person and behavior.
It seems that the filmmakers are okay with this kind of disposition, and if reports are true about this being a somewhat autobiographical story, then it means it is a, somewhat, representation of who they are. Which, honestly, isn’t all that surprising. Privileged people, who write characters that have no discernible problems in their life, except those that are self imposed by insisting that the philosophical movements that they engaged in as teenagers is the height of their personal growth? Woah, crazy, right? I don’t mean to come off as harsh. I get the disposition, and how it comes about, I just don’t relate to it. In my experience, being self absorbed makes a person kind of miserable, as it can stifle your ability to change.
I’m not even asserting that all movies should have characters I like, or empathize with. Take last year’s Woody Allen flick, Blue Jasmine, for instance. While the main character is more extroverted than the one in Her, they are in many ways two sides of the same coin, and Blue Jasmine is very clear in that it actively doesn’t really care if you like, or sympathize with it’s main protagonist. In this film, Her, it actively wants you to like and identify with it’s main protagonist, often going out of it’s way to show you how kind and sensitive he is. As a character, he’s kind of an empty vessel that is ripe for filling with ones’ self.
The protagonists emotional journey is pretty straightforward; he is a man that has to learn to engage in the before mention “expressions of love,” and that truly loving someone is accepting them for who they are, and not who you want or need them to be. The operating system, Samantha, is the entity that helps him come to this conclusion, as when she first gains consciousness she exists only to cater to him, but through her AI programming is able to learn, and in essence grow, so, she ends up changing and then becoming kind of a narcissist herself. Which makes sense, because she was programmed to be that way. So, I guess the movie kind of infers that we are like programs that are slaves to our nature, rather than living breathing things that can proactively change our sense of self.
Her is a film that’s made for a very specific sub-group of people. Namely, white, middle aged singles, that exist in the emotional mind set of teenagers. I’m not even going to bother getting into the classicist overtones that the film puts off, as it’s characters are obviously pretty well off in all other permutations of their lives. It strives to be a tender story about human nature, but it ends up being alienating because of it’s singular point of view. I really don’t understand the amount of praise heaped on this thing. I mean, I understand that this film isn’t aimed at me, and those that it is aimed at will and have loved it, but there are so many problems, from a completely objective perspective, in terms of story and two dimensional characterizations, that I don’t get the broad embrace of the picture. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. In fairness, maybe my perspective of the world blinded me to the “subtle glory” of the flick, or something. I’ll probably watch it again, and if my opinion changes significantly I’ll probably write something else about it. Like I said, I got the message of the movie, agreed with it, but the presentation and execution I found troubling.
Listen, I’m a fan of Spike Jonze, but, to be harsh, he has his head way up his own ass in this one. Which is fine, I guess, but it just wasn’t for me. He is a great director that can ground fantastical stories with his humanistic touches, but when that’s all there is it becomes almost a parody of itself. This being the first film that he’s solely written, it makes me think that maybe his strengths are in the interpretation department, and not so much the biographical one.