This is Week 3, day 2 of my new 13 Weeks Radical Reading Experiment. I keep a daily journal of the most interesting media that crosses my path each day. See or create something I should check out? Email me at DaveSwindlePJM@gmail.com
1. Andrew Klavan here at PJM: Does Her Deserve An Oscar?
But Her is not one of those movies. It’s bad. Its plot — a guy falls in love with the artificial intelligence of a new computer operating system — is an already played-out and unoriginal version of Pygmalion. (See everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2002′s Simone). Its characters are collections of ideas rather than actual personalities — even the wonderful Amy Adams has to struggle to make her cliched nothing of a part come to life. And, most importantly, its central performance is just brutally dull.
Without that sort of skill from its lead actor, a film like Her is just a charmless display of intellection. Which is all right for critics, I guess, if they’re not very good critics. But for humans? Pass.
Andrew, I have to admit it: your review yesterday inspired me. Recalling our occasional disagreements over movies and TV — which I still attribute mostly to our differing generational perspectives — the thinking went something like: “If Klavan hates it that much then maybe I’ll really like it!”
Last night April and I went to the ArcLight. I suggested four potential movies: Gravity 3D in IMAX, Saving Mr. Banks, Frozen, and Her. April picked Her — which really surprised me. And we both liked it — me more than her. She overall found it enjoyable — a good B-level movie worth seeing once but nothing special. I was more enthusiastic. As a singularitarian who thinks seriously about how biological and artificial intelligence will interact in the coming decades, I found it a thoughtful, well-shot fable.
And while you couldn’t relate to the main hero and his phone-based emotional life, I kind of could. It was great to go on this date with April last night; in the two weeks following our family Christmas visit we were separated while she put on a successful solo art show in the Bahamas and I hammered away at the book manuscript. So remember those scenes in Her with Theodore running around with the camera showing Samantha the world? That was me and our Siberian Husky running through the park the last few weeks, smart phone extended filming, sharing the emotional experience through a technological medium to connect with another person thousands of miles away. Where Her gets challenging is in taking the common experience we have today of using smart phones to channel our emotions and then asking the Turing Question: how do you know if the person you’re communicating with is a real person? What does it mean when you can no longer tell?
So what does it make me that Her is my best picture pick so far? Not a very good critic? Too influenced by America’s corrupt popular culture without even realizing it? Somehow less than human? You did say that humans should pass and I know that it was just a joke, but yeah, I’m a believer in Kathy Shaidle’s “nobody is ever just kidding” philosophy.
But that’s alright. I’m not offended. In my previous life as a film obsessive working at an art house movie theatre and writing weekly film reviews, the secret that came to me which I submit to you and everyone else for debate: if you don’t like a movie the first time you see it and a whole lot of other people (who are generally smart and thoughtful and whose advice you trust) do like it, then maybe you should just watch it again. Maybe you didn’t get it.
As I emailed you after your questioning review of Inside Llewyn Davis, I meant to write a blog post arguing that the Coen brothers are the primary example of this phenomenon. (They’re also my pick for your generation’s greatest filmmakers.) I didn’t like Fargo and The Big Lebowski the first times I saw them. It took a few viewings for them to unfold and for me to pick up on just how much they offer. All of the Coen brothers’ movies seem to be like that. Some — like No Country for Old Men and True Grit — hit you with their greatness immediately and obviously. But all the others just get better with each viewing. (Her‘s writer-director Spike Jonze falls into the same camp – Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are reward repeat watching.)
And honestly, I think that’s my definition of what it takes for a movie to be great — it has to be one that gets better each time you watch it. Is that a decent definition of what makes for great art in general? A painting you can stare at and always see something new, a song that always stirs the emotions differently, a book where each visit reveals new depth?
It seems that our mutual friend, the great activist-entrepreneur-writer-troublemaker R.J. Moeller, had a similar dismissive response to the film. In answering his longer criticisms, perhaps you’ll see why I’d encourage giving Her another chance.