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Digitally saturated

OUT NOW! Oscar-winning HER is the latest from revered director Spike Jonez who examines love in the digital age

Her hits Berlin cinemas on March 27.

Spike Jonze’s best original screenplay Oscar for Her was surely awarded as much for premise than execution of an idea involving a lonely soon-to-be divorcé and contract writer of private letters Theodore (Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s intelligent operating system Samantha (voiced by Johansson). Presenting a world dominated by Theodore’s high-waisted slacks and colourful linen shirts – neatly symbolising his tightrope balance between natural inhibition and yearned-for exhibition – Jonze’s exploration of emotional identities works just a little too tidily as a formally imagined series of checks and balances, reflected for example in cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema’s vertically captured Shanghai posing as a near-future LA cross-cut by the low slung horizontals of beds and benches.

Digital sterility might not win the day, but it is given plenty of airtime and Phoenix and Johansson must radiate considerable warmth to cut through the fug of virtual cool. The self-referential geniality that inspired Jonze’s Being John Malkovich and Adaptation is not part of this picture. Well-conceived and gorgeous to look at, Her suffers from an overdose of the artificialities that it aims to deconstruct. In attempting to reflect on the limitations of digitalization, Jonze’s use of a blank, black screen at a seminal moment of non-intercourse emphasizes this weakness, submitting to inexpressibility, accepting rather than properly taking issue with the conundrum of 21st century life as it segues into a squishy conclusion. 

Her | Directed by Spike Jonze (USA 2013) with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (voice). Starts March 27

Originally published in issue #126, April 2014.