Budapest Film Review: Her

  • 7 Feb 2014 8:00 AM
Budapest Film Review: Her
We have certainly come along way since the days of "You've Got Mail" (1998) the romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan about two people falling in love over the Internet.

In those days there was a general fear about getting involved with someone over the Internet but there were stories about people who would begin talking in chat rooms and started developing romantic feelings for one another. They would live in different parts of the world and begin long distance relationships. At the time it wasn't something you wanted to speak about in public. It was taboo. It was dangerous. What if the person on the other end wasn't who they said they are. What if you thought you were "talking" to a 28 year old woman but in reality it was a 62 year old guy?

From this sprang on-line dating sites; e-harmony and Individuals paying money to join sites to meet people to date. And of course before that people started "texting" more than calling each other on the phone. You could skype instead of meet someone in person for coffee. We could order movies through the mail thanks to netflix instead of getting out of the house and driving to Blockbuster.

And so it happened. Technology over took our lives. Our interaction with the world changed. Some say for the better, others say for the worst. The way we communicate with each other changed and it will never go back to the way it was before. Internet dating is common. Texting has replaced talking.

It was only a matter of time until someone got the idea to make a movie like "Her" (2013). The love story of our times. A reflection of society's relationship with technology.

In "Her", directed by Spike Jonze, a man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is dealing with the fact his marriage is headed for divorce. He and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara) have been separated for a year but Theo can't bring himself to sign the divorce papers. Once he signs those papers, everything changes. With the stroke of a pen he is no longer married. True he and Catherine don't lead the life of a married couple anymore but signing that paper makes it official. It is more than Theo can deal with emotionally.

Memories of Catherine haunt him. He spaces out. He wants to escape from reality. To live in his memories. A time when things were right with the world. He was with the woman he loves, "the one". The person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Now, all he has are those memories. He won't let go of them. But, of course, they stop him from moving forward.

Theo works for a company which writes notes for another people. Individuals send in a request for letters to be written for special occasions; birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, get well...ect Theo and his co-workers, fill in the gaps and relive moments in other people's lives. Think about that for a second. Here is a world where there is so much distance between us we can't even find words to express ourselves. We need to hire other people, outsiders, to tell us how important "special moments" in our lives are.

Being up to date with technology Theo decides to buy the latest gadget. An operating system called OS1. It creates an artificial person for you to communicate with. A GPS like device which you download onto your computer, has its own distinct voice and can function as your own personal calendar. It can alert you when you have emails, read them for you and respond to them at your command. It can interact with you on a personal level. Tell jokes, express fear and other human emotions. Soon, Theo falls in love with this device. And his feelings are shared, as his operating system, named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) loves him too.

Samantha makes Theo feel alive. It makes him believe in love and the world again. Here is someone that listens to him. Is willing to share in his delights. Try and see the world as he sees it. But one day the realization hits him. Samantha is not real. And never will become real.

And it is with this Spike Jonze and "Her" I feel hits on two themes. One - in our modern world, how do you define "relationships". With technology we can now have relationships with people we have never met. Is a relationship defined by the physical or the emotional? I may never see you, but, I communicate with you. We speak on the phone, I text you, email you and soon I develop feelings for you. Are my feelings any less valid than if we met face to face? Theme number two - technology has taken over our lives. We rely on it too much. So much that it interferes with face to face communication. We aren't looking for serious, meaningful relationships with other humans. We rush home to text someone. Write them an email. Update our facebook status. We prefer this over what we find to be the messy dealings of humans. We don't want to concern ourselves with other people's feelings. But, remember, one day that electronic device that you are so attached too will run out of batteries. Water may spill on it. You might drop it and break it. Then what? How will you survive? In the end, nothing beats social interaction with humans. Humans will always be there for you when your computer breaks.

A movie like this could have gone wrong in so many ways. Just the basic premise of a man falling in love with a computer sounds creepy. But Jonze and Phoenix are able to show the audiences how contemporary this story is. We care about this man Theo. We can see a little bit of ourself in him. And given this story line so much rest on Phoenix's shoulders. He is the only person in this relationship which we are capable of seeing. The other person in this love story is a voice. Joaquin Phoenix must single handedly convey to the audience all the emotions an individual goes through in a relationship. The excitement of meeting someone new. Of wanting to learn all about them. To discover their interest. The anxiousness you feel over your first intimate encounter. The awkwardness after it. You have taken the relationship to a new level. Things have changed. The jealousy and fear of losing someone. And falling in love with them all over again. All of this is up to Phoenix. And he does it. He does it beautifully. He makes this a real person not just a symbol of the times. This is a man with a background story.

Spike Jonze has always struck me as a quirky type. A bit eccentric. I enjoyed "Being John Malkovich" (1999) his debut film but I thought it lacked heart. It was creative, no doubt about that but I wasn't emotionally drawn in. His "Adaptation" (2002) left me cold as well. But here with "Her" Jonze shows he can deal with fully fleshed out characters. Not wacky characters but he can create people and make something which moves us on a deep emotional level. I wasn't prepared for that. That perhaps impressed me most while watching this movie. Jonze's ability to strike beneath the surface.

The movie has already picked up critical acclaim. Either winning or being nominated for various critic group awards. It has even managed to win three Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor (Phoenix). It wouldn't shock me if the movie also secured Oscar nominations.

Here is a true reflection of our times. A movie which shows us a changing world and our relationship with technology and one another. It is a contemporary masterpiece. One of the year's best films.

By Alex Udvary, who is a Chicago based freelance movie critic and commentator.

All of his work can be read at

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Now Showing In Budapest: Her

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