Thursday, January 2, 2014

Haunted by a Movie

Yes, this is supposed to be a book blog but I went to see a movie by myself (as I almost always do) and I was so overwhelmed by the mixture of emotions I felt and now I have no one to talk to about it. So let me invite discussion with any of you out there who may have seen it.

The movie was Her with Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man on the verge of a divorce who slowly falls in love with an operating system named Samantha. Set in a not too distant future where everyone seems to be talking to themselves but is actually conversing with artificial intelligence systems that have the ability to manage nearly every facet of one's life, Her is a very odd movie in which we learn how absurd relationships can be. But it is in the extremes to which lonely people will go in order to find any sort of connection that will bring them joy that is the most profound aspect of the movie.

When stripped to its bare essentials Her is the story of a man falling in love with a computer. It sounds like it would be a great comedy, and though it is funny and amusing at times the overall tone is more serious. It turns out to be an oddly beautiful and poignant movie thanks largely to Phoenix' nuanced and entirely grounded performance. I was reminded of As She Climbed Across the Table, a novel Jonathan Lethem wrote during his early career when he was toying with science fiction and fantasy. There are also elements of Colossus: The Forbin Project, especially in the very strange, somewhat ambiguous ending.

I was both disturbed and profoundly moved by what I saw. Granted there are several instances when it's just absurd and not a little bit creepy (the sex scene in particular and the very sad sequence with the sex surrogate). Yet I think it has a lot to teach about the ultimate mystery of life -- falling in love -- and the importance of not caring what other people think about you as you try to find joy in a world that increasingly seems to rob of us of that elusive state.

Anyone see Her yet? Any thoughts? I'm eager to talk about this with anyone.

16 comments:

  1. John, that's a nice picture of yourself, I think. I hadn't heard of this film until now so I can't talk about it. The last Joaquin Phoenix movie I saw was "Reservation Road" with Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Connelly. Depressing but well-made. In my teens I used to go to the theatres all by myself to watch films like "Jesus Christ," "The Day After" about nuclear Armageddon, and "The Concrete Jungle" about an all-women's prison. Remember, I was in my teens!

    A happy and a most wonderful new year to you and your family, John!

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    1. All right, John, I'm sorry for the faux pas. I didn't realise that was Joaquin Phoenix in "Her." Jaded in the new year, am I?!

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    2. First time I've been mistaken for Joaquin Phoenix. Usually I get accusations of being an Anderson Cooper doppelgänger. Confession: a long ago in one of my many "experimental looks" I did have a mustache and, I think, a pair of glasses that looked like Theodore's above. But not the glasses and mustache at the same time.

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    3. John, I used to sport a bit of a moustache and beard many years ago. Now I've got used to the morning shave.

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  2. I'm interested in this film, as everything I've read makes it seem like something I'd enjoy. Now I want to see it even more.

    And I'm so sorry, Prashant, but I did get a giggle out of your mistake.

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    1. Kelly, I got a giggle out of it myself. I looked up the film on the internet and saw the above image. Until then I knew nothing about this film or how Phoenix looked in it.

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  3. What makes you think Lethem was "toying" with sf and fantasy? His sensibilities have remained the same throughout his career. That said, I'm looking forward to HER.

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    1. Really? Motherless Brooklyn is pretty mainstream as a novel in my estimation and not a drop of the kind of genre blending sf I read in his first four novels: detective novel mixed with sf in GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, western mixed with sf in GIRL IN LANDSCAPE. That's what I meant by toying.

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    2. "Toying" to me implies a lack of respect, respect which I think Lethem has in spades...he's never attempted even to pull a Kurt Vonnegut/Margaret Atwood, to distance himself from the fantasticated fiction he keeps returning to/drawing from (in even his approaches to nonfiction), though in their cases I can't help but think it's more a social resentment of how they were treated by "insiders" in the fields and then by more "elite" circles...perhaps Hortense Calisher or Michael Frayn, and their pompous annoyance at having it pointed out when they've written sf or fantasy, is more to the point. And even they weren't "toying"--playing, perhaps, with expectations, but that's a different thing altogether, for me. And, I think, by general connotation.

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  4. All I knew of Her was gleaned from ads caught on television. So bleak, so depressing, so moving, I was sold by the mystery of it all. What is this film about? Well, now I know, and I'm more curious than ever.

    Clearly, something altogether different from 1984's Electric Dreams.

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    1. I wondered the same things, Brian. I did very little investigating about the story of Her and read none of the reviews until after I had seen the movie. I suggest you avoid the reviews as well -- some of the US criticism is very cynical and snarky.

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  5. I am glad to see this post, because I just saw a trailer last night and it seemed ridiculous. Now it seems less so. Now I want to see the movie, eventually.

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  6. I am really looking forward to this - not sure when it open sin the UK though- thanks John (and happy new year)

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  7. I think I fell in love with Scarlett Johansson's voice while watching HER. So many of my students walk around like the people in HER completely fixated on their cell phones. HER is a provocative movie with (to me) a lame ending.

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    1. The cell phone mania is ubiquitous George and it affects people of all ages in my experience. It's beyond addiction with some people. It's almost a need to disappear from the real world into this private world that only the user knows about.

      I also wasn't too keen on the odd ending to HER. Too much like The Forbin Project. Plus it's so ambiguous about Theodore and Amy. Are they going to jump off the roof after admiring the sunset? It's not very hopeful for them as I interpreted it.

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  8. Plenty of my friends who saw HER thought Amy and Theodore were going to jump off that roof. I didn't think so (but I'm basically a hopeful kind of guy). You're right about addiction. In the new book HATCHING TWITTER the author mentions a survey of college students. Ten years ago when college students were asked what is the one most important thing in their life the most frequent answer was BEER. When they asked the students in 2012, their answer was "my cell phone."

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