How old do you have to be to be bothered by people walking through streets with eyes only for their mobile phones? There’s usually a moral panic about new technology so the idea that young people, who have grown up with social networking, don’t know how to relate to one another without a phone is a reactionary representation and not the reality. However, any time spent with people who can’t keep their eyes, or fingers, off their phones for more than a few minutes can be extremely annoying. Their ‘now’ is not your ‘now’ and their attention is not wholly with you. Youngsters may not be bothered by this but many oldsters are. To us, many young people seem to be ‘in love’ with their devices and Spike Jonze has literalised this idea in Her.
‘What does it mean to be human?’ is the key question asked by hard science fiction (SF). The futuristic LA of Her (a convincing amalgam of LA and Shanghai) adds Artificial Intelligence to operating systems and shows loner Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falling for Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Incidentally Johansson’s giggly, breathy performance was, for me, the main weakness of the film; personal taste, of course, but I couldn’t fall that for. However, it’s entirely believable that people could fall in love with a computer; Joseph Weizenbaum, in the 1960s, developed ELIZA, an extremely basic program that subjects would, nevertheless, share very personal thoughts.
Jonze convincingly stretches the concept, too thin for a two-hour film, and offers a suitably ambiguous ending. Phoenix is excellent in the lead and well supported by Amy Adams, as his friend whose real relationship is on the rocks. It was produced by Megan Ellison who has used her massive inheritance to support filmmakers she admires. I notice that her upcoming movies have Terminator in the title; does that mean she’s going mainstream?
Her has been touted, in this award season, as one of the best American movies of 2013. And it is but that really does suggest that American cinema is suffering a lull.