MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Warner Brothers Pictures
Directed by Spike Jonze. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson
Every once in a while a film comes along that is so haunting that I cannot get it out of my mind. Spike Jonze’s science fiction film Her is one of those movies.
The film is set in the very near future, which could be either 10-20 years from now or even next year. Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is employed in Los Angeles at a company called “Beautiful Handwritten Letters”. He sits at his desk and speaks into a microphone that is connected to a computer that will compose personal letters for his clients that will be mailed to friends and family. Theodore has many regular customers who trust his knowledge of their lives to be dependable over the years. And, from the looks of his luxurious apartment, he is paid well for his ability to write beautiful handwritten letters.
Theodore is also very lonely, in the midst of divorcing his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). He is also very much attached to his smart phone, which is now simply an every-present earpiece that he interacts with constantly. A new operating system is advertised that promises a personal relationship; it will be able to learn, change and grow. Theodore decides to give it a try. The OS introduces herself as “Samantha” (she thinks that it is a name that he would like among the thousands of names she’s researched). Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) shows great interest in Theodore and soon they begin a connection that is deep and meaningful.
I’m just describing the first 15 minutes of a 2-hour film that is visually stunning (using a combination of LA, Shanghai, and CGI to create a skyscraper town of the future), funny and sad. Writer-director Spike Jonze does a masterful job of showing us that Twombly’s plight is not unique. We do not observe anyone in the film enjoying a deep relationship. The glowing screens, computer games and other digital interactions have entered into their lives in a way that will help them to be active and yet feel alone on a crowded street.
Her can be seen as a satire of our current love affair with technology (for what it’s worth, Siri disappoints me so frequently I rarely ask her a question). It is also a cautionary tale that offers up some hope at the end and a strong case for face-to-face friendship.
And love? Well, that’s God’s part in creation’s story and the Good News that is ours to share. We should use technology to connect with the world (hey, that’s how you got to this review!), but we should also be diligent in getting the love of Christ out into the world through caring acts of compassion and joy.
If you decide to see Her, do yourself a favor and see it with a real live friend, partner, or spouse with whom you can discuss the movie with afterwards. And put that phone on vibrate during the movie and keep it off for the rest of the day.
Three halos: A haunting and melancholy film about loneliness and disconnection in the digital age.
Three pitchforks: For pervasive strong language and quite a few sexual scenes; if R rated films are not a regular part of your viewing, don’t start with this one.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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