Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Genre: Drama/ Romance/ Sci-Fi
Lonely writer Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is in the final stages of divorce when he invests in a new product known as an OS1 to help cure some of his extreme loneliness. The OS1 is advertised as the world’s first emotionally intelligent operating system, and through asking Theodore a few seemingly simple questions it is a friend that truly understands him of which he can choose the gender. Theodore chooses female and his OS1 calls herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The two of them instantly form a bond, which despite Samantha just being a voice that talks to Theodore, eventually leads to them being lovers. With superior intelligence to a human, Samantha provides more for Theodore than anyone else has ever done, but also presents not only the problems of any relationship, but different problems due to her superior intelligence and unique desires and curiosity as well as the fact she is ultimately an OS. All this poses the question to Theodore; can he ever find connection with anyone ever again? Whether this is with a human or a machine.
In dealing with themes of loneliness, isolation and connection, Spike Jonze’s latest hardly deals with uncharted themes, but explores these powerful universal themes that we have all experienced in a way that is not only unique, but extremely powerful and effective. Except the high trousers, this is a future where very little has changed except technology is more able to replicate and understand human emotion. However, despite this essentially being a Sci-Fi film, it is the type of Sci-Fi that is always best: the one that focuses first and foremost on human emotion and the technology is built around that. This future world created by Jonze is very involving and relatable, with its characters suffering from the same emotional pain that we all do now. The only more advanced aspects of this world from our own are always justified and play a relevant part of the plot, including a computer game that Theodore plays and a game that his friend Amy (Adams) is developing called ‘Perfect Mom’ which is a more competitive and satirical version of the Sims.
In this future technology has seemed to primarily evolve around the human desire for connection and companionship, allowing Jonze to explore these themes with depth and genuine passion. In the films early stages, while lying in bed at night Theodore can simply select via a headset to speak to other people alone in their beds also needing companionship (of various kinds). When Theodore starts his ‘relationship’ with Samantha everything does seem perfect, and though he at first feels awkward revealing he is dating an OS, he learns that so many others are doing it. However, whether they are virtual or human, any relationship still presents the same problems and imperfections which are mainly down to Theodore’s struggle to connect with anyone. This is emphasised when Theodore goes on a blind date with an actual woman (Olivia Wilde), Jonze’ claustrophobic camerawork enhances the discomfort of the entire scene.
One particularly disturbing and uncomfortable scene is when a ‘surrogate’ (Portia Doubleday) allows Samantha to speak in Theodore’s earphone while the surrogate acts out everything Samantha says including having sex with Theodore. It is an unnerving scene, but again all three characters involved have such relatable desires and needs that it is also very moving.
Of course for Her to work great performances are essential, and at the heart of the story, Pheonix portrays emotional insecurity and extreme loneliness with subtle perfection, while Johansson gives genuine passion to her vocal performance. Though one of these characters is actually human and the other virtual, they like all of us want the same thing and it is why for me Her is such an involving and genuinely moving film. If you have just endured a breakup then I would perhaps suggest against seeing this as it is not likely to cheer anyone up, but its unique exploration of universal and relatable themes make it an extremely engaging and involving watch with our own personal experiences shaping in some ways are experience of the narrative. It is perhaps a little too long in length with some scenes that take a little too long to develop, but Spike Jonze deserves universal praise for what he has created.
Despite the futuristic setting and use of technology, this is very much a human film exploring themes we can all relate to. Her is a film that is involving, engaging and often very moving that certainly deserves its Oscar nominations.