Spike Jonze explores isolation in Her

In his latest film, Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, Spike Jonze continues his exploration of the mind.

Joaquin Phoenix Her spike jonze

Joaquin Phoenix in Her directed by Spike Jonze

The theme of isolation is Spike Jonze’s forte.

The idea that we live inside our own heads more than we participate in the world around us is present in his meditation on what it’s like Being John Malkovich (1999) and in Adaptation (2002).

In Her, Joaquin Phoenix is terrific as Theodore, a man who lives inside his own head, in more ways than one. He works at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, where he writes letters for all sorts of occasions: anniversaries, thank yous or just to say “I love you.”

He lives alone. His sole valuable social interaction is with his best friend, Amy (Amy Adams), and he’s also in the middle of a divorce from his writer ex-wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), whom he “left alone” in the relationship.

One day he installs Samantha (well voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a highly intelligent operating system designed to meet his every need and desire. The two form an untraditional bond.

Samantha has a mind of her own, but not a physical body. She may respond to all of Theodore’s needs, but she quickly begins to grow as a person — a theme that Spike Jonze underlines in the Her: growing in and out of love with someone’s mind, whether they live in the physical world or not.

As Theodore, Phoenix gives his sweetest, most vulnerable performance to date. And as far as Johansson’s voice is concerned, I could hardly imagine a better actress for the role of Samantha. Her rich, husky voice embodies everything Samantha represents: allure, wit, a quality of realness — something Theodore struggles with so much.

Her is so many things at once — it’s a meditation on love and what it means to share your life with someone, but it’s also a reflection on our growing self-absorption, our love of ourselves more than anything else.

In the future-world of the film, people walk alone with their head-pieces (and extremely high waisted pants), conversing with someone or something all the time. There are rarely groups seen hanging out together. Technology here is used as a mirror to ourselves — we love it because it satisfies all our needs, even sex. Woody Allen famously said that work gives life the illusion of meaning, and sex gives it the illusion of continuity. The characters of Her are in search of both — meaning and continuity —neither of which is found. ■

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Spike Jonze, is in Montreal theatres now.

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