Set in Los Angeles, slightly in the future, the film follows Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet "Samantha" (voiced by Johansson), a bright, female OS who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other. From the unique perspective of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Spike Jonze comes an original love story that explores the evolving nature -- and the risks -- of intimacy in the modern world.
"Strangle me with a dead cat!" shrieks a stranger as she engages in weird futuristic phone sex with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix). This scene, right at the beginning, doesn't just provide a few awkward laughs. It sets the scene. Here's a world where people have become increasingly insular. Living their lives through their computers, anonymously (sound familiar?). The woman on the other end of the phone is used to it. Theodore, on the other hand, is something of a traditionalist. He's wigged out by the confrontation, but as a loner, he's unable to form even basic romantic relationships. His first marriage didn't work out. Now he's wandering the nebulous Web hoping to find someone else.
This scene flawlessly creates the movie's intricate, not-so-distant future setting. It lays the groundwork for the film's based-on-science technology, and Theodore's introverted personality. It's the first of many profound scenes in 'Her,' A Spike Jonze movie, which won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and rightly so. 'Her' is an imaginative romantic epic, grounded in reality. It's a perfectly plausible situation crafted inside Jonze's mind, dressed up with the ethos of a technology-dominated society. The beauties and pitfalls associated with living such a life, and what it means for our humanistic need to be loved and cared for.
Since Theodore's divorce, he hasn't been able to right the ship, so to speak. He meanders through his life, playing videogames with foul-mouthed protagonists and chatting with his only friend Amy (Amy Adams). On a whim he decides to buy a new, autonomous operating system. In this believable future computers, run everything in one's life. An earpiece is constantly attached to the side of one's head. A constant connection with your personal electronic concierge.
After setting up the new OS, Theodore eventually chooses a soft, raspy female voice (Scarlett Johansson) as the operating system's personality. The OS is supposed to be a free-thinking artificial intelligence that will learn and grow with its operator. Samantha (Johansson), suddenly becomes Theodore's closest friend. Someone that won't judge him, will listen to him, interact with him, and won't ask him to strangle someone with a dead cat. Despite Samantha essentially being lines of code driven by a sexy voice, the two of them quickly and recklessly fall for each other.
If I hadn't already seen Scarlett Johansson in 'Under the Skin' I'd have to say that 'Her' is her best work ever. Never seen on screen, her voice does all the work. It was my choice for Best Supporting Actress last year. How could it not be? Her voice is so effective in conveying a wide array of emotions. The way she interacts with Theodore is simply beautiful to witness. It's made all the more fascinating when we learn that Samantha Morton was the original voice that worked on set with Phoenix during principal photography. It wasn't until the editing phase where Jonze decided to replace all the dialogue with Johansson's voiceover. It's a pretty miraculous feat. Johansson steps seamlessly into the role, flawlessly creating frothy chemistry with Phoenix.
When Samantha and Theodor fall in love, it's entirely within the realm of believability. We understand why love can cross certain boundaries once thought impossible, impractical, or immoral. It's a stunning tale of two identities finding each other, caring for each other, and facing the real possibility that they'll never be able to touch or see each other. 'Her' was my favorite film of 2013, and remains one of my favorite movies of the last five years.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has given us a 2-disc release for 'Her.' It contains a 50GB Blu-ray, a DVD, and a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. Everything is packed in a standard keepcase, surrounded by a generic slipcover.
As you may suspect the visuals presented here, in 1080p, are crisp and stunning, with an attention to detail that might catch some by surprising. Much of the film's beauty comes in its close ups, as we study Joaquin's face in order to understand how Theodore is feeling. The detail, up close, and in the mid-range, is above reproach. A clearly rendered landscape of visual storytelling.
Black areas are especially deep. Shadows are strong, but never overpowering. Flesh tones are consistent and lifelike. Contrast is smartly tuned. The color palette is muted, lending a strange dreamlike look to the film.
As I said before, detail is marvelous. Close-ups of Theodore's face feature all sorts of miniscule facial expressions, and emotions, capturing all of Phoenix's wonderful performance. I didn't notice any ugly artifacts. Banding, aliasing, and crushing are all nowhere to be found. Instead we're presented with a clean, clear, untarnished high-def representation of Spike Jonze's inspiring film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track performs better than you might suspect considering how dramas and romantic movies are usually front-heavy and dominated with dialogue. Here we have a little different soundfield, but one that lends a unique listening experience.
Often Samantha's voice feels like it's the encompassing thing, rather than a voice simply coming from another person on screen. The mix does a great job at conveying Samantha's voice as something that takes completely control of the movie whenever we hear it. It makes sense, since Theodore is so enamored by her. It's all he can hear. It's all he wants to hear.
Technically speaking, the mix is dynamite. Samantha's voice is piped through as a sultry ethereal voice, while other voices are direct and concise, following the traditional method of front-centric speech. The rear channels offer up more than enough ambient sound whether it's a city street, busy office, or Theodore sitting inside playing a hologram videogame.
Jonze nailed it. He really did. 'Her' is a deep, cerebral journey through love, technology, and the melding of the two. Joaquin Phoenix delivers another career performance, as Scarlett Johansson steals the movie even without us seeing her. Everything about 'Her' is perfectly constructed. An orchestra of human emotion, the mystery of love, and the inevitable heartbreak that finds so many of us. The Blu-ray showcases exceptional video and audio. Highly recommended.