In my own estimation, when it comes to bankable visionary directors with a gift for invention, Spike Jonze tops the A-list. In his first three films beginning with Being John Malkovich and following through with Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze takes seemingly inexplicable situations involving characters locked in various degrees of existential isolation and opens the viewer to worlds where all the dots seem to connect to a larger, deeper, and more profound meaning.
With his latest film Her, which in essence is a love story for our time between a man and technology, director Jonze (in his first original screenplay) imagines a near-future where we live green and our digital commands can become as intimate as a breathless whisper. Starring Joaquin Phoenix in one of his most deeply rendered and passionate performances, the film explores the life of Theodore Twombly, who writes letters online for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings.
Twombly lives very well in a Los Angeles of pristine splendor; but he is incredibly lonely. His wife has left him and his best friend (an excellent Amy Adams) is distracted by her work as a videogame maker.
Consequently, Theodore eventually comes to discover what he feels is the ‘perfect woman’ in Samantha. But the only catch is that Samantha is the operating system in Theodore’s computer – and because he spends so much time in front of it, she knows him better than anyone because she’s programmed that way.
In another knockout performance (of sorts) by Scarlett Johansson, who speaks Samantha in tones that are sweet, sexy, caring, manipulative, and frightening in equal measures, Johansson’s vocal tour de force is decidedly award-worthy. As is this movie. Jonze is a visionary whose lyrical, soulful mediation on relationships of the future cuts to the heart and the essence of the way that we already live now. Truly a haunting and unforgettable piece of work.