Relationship and connection venture into uncharted territory in the powerfully moving tale that is ‘Her’
We live in an era where our interactions and repeated behaviors with our electronic devices suggest a strong sense of devotion to them. More often than not, we hold our smart phones more than we do other people, or we hold our gaze upon computer screens with far more determination and presence than we do if we were sitting across from another person. Two human beings meeting for, say, coffee, might become distracted and eventually find themselves being more committed to making a connection to their electronic device than remaining present in the conversation taking place in front of them. It is no stretch by any means to suggest that most individuals in the 21st century are already having some type of relationship with their electronic pals.
That may be a sobering reality to fully grasp and process, but bless screenwriter/director Spike Jonze for using it as a premise and running with it. In Her, he creates a tale in the near-future that explores several things with haunting depth: To what degree do we connect with others; how deep are we willing to go—and why—and what is it that makes us connect with somebody (or in this case, some “thing”) in the first place? Is it derived from within us? The other entity?
What is connection?
Set in smoggy, high-rise-ridden Los Angeles, we follow Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a surrogate letter writer—seems the original way of doing it got tossed aside years ago—who purchases a new OS (Operating System). Through Bluetooth-like technology, it allows him to, at any time, connect to the female voice managing his electronic world and then some—think Siri with more panache and personality. The OS voice is given a name—Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)—and is über efficient. She also comes across as playful and lighthearted and, in time, surprisingly vulnerable. After scouring Theodore’s personal files—i.e. life—she quickly assesses as much as she can about him, only to later crack jokes, make him laugh or ponder the philosophical.
All of this surprises Theodore, who is still licking the wounds of a failed marriage, and in a relatively short time, the two interact more regularly. Eventually. Samantha expands her, say, field of consciousness and she and Theodore reach a new level of emotional intimacy. Naturally, this poses an immediate dilemma. Samantha is, after all, a computer program, which processes data, but we soon learn, she has the ability to process much more than that. Let’s just say she reconstructs the meaning of Artificial Intelligence.
Theodore finds support in his curious odyssey through his coworkers and friends, most notably his neighbor, played by Amy Adams. The film also does a remarkable job showcasing the future it is set in—everything from the styles of the day to the modern ways in which people are living.
That Jonze manages to pull all of it off to the superb ends he does, without having the film devolve into a screwball comedy, further illuminates the brilliance of the man already revered for making Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where The Wild Things Are. This is by far another career-defining turn for Phoenix as well. And Johansson creates a, for lack of a better term, full-bodied, Samantha—a true presence capable of capturing our attention and keeping us invested.
Only a handful of love stories over the last decade stand out for their courage to explore love and connection with such unwavering honesty. Her is one of those stories, and it unspools in a kind of ethereal subtlety that keeps you thinking about it long after you leave the theater.
HER ★ ★ ★1/2 (out of four) With Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara. Written and directed by Spike Jonze. Rated R. 120 minutes.