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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Review of the film, 'her'


‘her’, a futuristic story about ‘him’ (Joaquin Phoenix) and five hers (Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Portia Doubleday), is an engaging film that compels you to reflect, and challenges you to label it. At first, it appears to be a tongue-in-cheek take on futuristic technology (writer-director Spike Jonze had a real-life terrible experience with a smartphone app). Then, it draws you into the lonely world of the curiously named Theodore Twombly, played by Phoenix, who works for a web-based ghost letter-writing company, penning highly rated hand-written declarations of love for its clients. Before you have settled into this frame, the film launches a ‘humanoid’ computer Operating System, OS1, that works through a customised female voice calling itself Samantha, a voice that is as more human and intelligent than any real woman could be.

Fighting hard to come to grips with impending divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara), who accuses him of inability to handle reality and of trying to put her on Prozac, Theodore is lonely and sad. His only pleasure is a video game, featuring an alien kid, voiced by Jonze himself. His life takes a surreal turn when he installs the OS. Samantha first impresses Theodore as a technological wonder, then takes the shape of a trusted friend, and, finally, they ‘fall in love’. You might guffaw when the fact is broken on screen, as you might on at least three other occasions in the movie, but ‘her’ is not a funny film. It is really about one man’s journey through a failed marriage, a blind-date (Olivia Wilde) with whom he just cannot get physical, a disembodied OS (Johansson) that serves as his best friend-cum-personal assistant, a surrogate sexual encounter set-up by the OS with an online sympathiser (Portia Doubleday), and an office colleague (Amy Adams) who has surprisingly separated from her husband after, until then, a very happy marriage.

The film begins with Phoenix reading his own script, with eyes moving almost like those of a blind man. Aided with a moustache, a pair of glasses and pleat-less, low-waist trousers, he then builds an unconventional character that takes you through a host of emotions, and when he cannot accept the thought of losing his wife or when he brings in the concept of fidelity in spite of the fact that his ‘girl friend’ is an OS, your heart goes out to him. It is not an easy role, and Phoenix, who is known for getting under the skin of his characters, is up to it. Amy Adams, constantly emoting with her body, face and eyes, seems to be performing in the initial scenes, but comes into her own in the second half of the film. Mara is a good piece of casting, sharply contrasting with all the other female characters in the film. As the blind date, Wilde is sensual and matter-of-fact at once. Some fine dumb-charade is enacted by Doubleday. Scarlett Johansson accords slick professional feel, sexy polish and human sentiment, all in ample measure, to one of the most memorable in absentia performances of film history. Interestingly, the original choice for the voice was British actor Samantha Morton, who had already dubbed almost the entire film, when the change was effected. (Indian viewers: Watch out for a well-crafted scene that ends with Phoenix finding himself face-to-face with a pizza vendor, played by somebody called Pramod Kumar).

With Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are behind him, quirky director Spike Jonze (real name Adam Spiegel) started as an amateur skate-boarding video maker and went on to direct much-appreciated music videos for Sonic Youth, Björk and the Beastie Boys, and, in 2010, wrote and directed I’m Here, a 31-minute film about the tragic technological romance of a robot who sacrifices all his body parts, one by one, for his beloved, also a robot. Now, he has made a film that has striking production design, and examines and contrasts the issues of loneliness, ‘technologicalisation’ and virtual reality, of the near future and the realisation of information technology written by human programmers. Rated R in the US, restricting entry to those above 18, on account of language and brief sex scenes, it is being released in India with the steamier footage deleted. ‘her’, set in the not too distant future (there is a reference to a China-India merger on the TV news) is sure worth a watch, especially for the techno-savvy generation, whether ‘him’ or ‘her’. It uses some obvious mechanisms to tell a craftily woven story.

Rating: ***1/2

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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