Never a filmmaker to stick to convention, Spike Jonze’s Her is both a heartwarming love letter to romance and a parable on our increasingly intimate reliance on technology.
In a near future Theodore, played with a warming, almost Forrest Gump charm by Joaquin Phoenix, is a professional letter writer. He spends his days writing letters for other people to their loved ones. The concept may seem like a sweet one but the looming reality that people don’t have the time or inclination to express their love is a crucial theme in Her. In his own life Theodore is a sad-sack loner; separated from his wife (Rooney Mara) he spends his days sex chatting online and wandering through this idyllic sun-filled world. But a new computer operating system offers Theodore a semblance of hope.
Voiced by the husky and seductive tones of Scarlet Johansson, Samantha is a Siri with sex appeal. Catering to his every need, able to instantly read through every email, letter and essay Theodore has ever penned she knows him immediately and as such is perfectly synced to fulfil him emotionally. Theodore’s innocent and honest approach to the world begins to have an impact on Samantha and awakens in her emotions and desires beyond her programming.
As their affections evolve so Theodore and Samantha find themselves in a bona fide relationship, complete with the highs of euphoric love and the lows resulting from one of them having no tangible presence in our reality. It’s a cute story told with a delicate but picture-perfect colour palette. They start as companions, Samantha allowing them to enter the ‘friend zone’ by setting him up on a date with possibly cinema’s most beautiful incarnation of the ‘bunny boiler’ in the shape of Olivia Wilde. However, jealously inevitably rears its head.
Jonze conjures a spectrum of emotions just by casually following the ‘couple’ through a series of scenarios; from dates to the beach, playing computer games together (which allows for the film’s funniest character; a foul-mouthed cartoon child who presents a smart idea of an artificially created persona that quietly comments on Samantha) right through to sexual encounters, including an attempt at using a ‘surrogate’ woman to offer Theodore a physical body for Samantha to, at least momentarily, occupy.
But in all their genuinely warming interactions you never stop feeling that Theodore is becoming increasingly isolated from the world. It’s a theme that Jonze never rams home but perfectly touches upon at infrequent moments. This is most seen in his scenes with neighbour and former college fling Amy (Amy Adams). You sense that Amy and Theodore are perfectly suited to each other; both struggling with their creative confidence, she is also forming a best friend relationship with her ex-husband’s operating system.
There is a natural philosophy on offer throughout Jonze’s film; a sense of opinion on the concept of technology stealthily entering every facet of the human experience, both presenting the façade of bringing people together while almost intentionally keeping them apart. Crowd scenes allow for hundreds of people to pass each other, all talking to their computers without so much as an eye contact or angry nudge. It’s a powerful message that, in the final third, Jonze prolongs a little too much by introducing an ‘AI’ reproduced incarnation of a philosopher, voiced by the typically evocative Brian Cox. It takes what had previously been subtext and layers it on a little too thick, prolonging what is already a beautiful and powerful story told in an intelligent and subtle manner.
Delicate, adorable and quietly poignant, Her is a film that lifts you with its love but cautions you to the self-indulgent power of technology tailor made to our increasingly-isolating existence.