The age-old quest of love gets a fantastic new twist that is well crafted and engaging to watch.
In the near future of Her, LA has a few new buildings in its skyline and is as smoggy as ever. The haze only adding to its dreaminess. The metro extends all the way to the beach (something all Angelinos have been craving for years), and the fashion trends favor nerd appeal, with high-waisted pants for men and minimal makeup on women. People walk around, hardly acknowledging one another, muttering into the small wireless earpieces they wear to stay constantly connected to their smart devices.
We’ve already become a society that doesn’t bat an eyelash at people staring at small square screens in their hands around the clock, so this next possible step depicted in director Spike Jonze’s vision of the future does seem entirely likely. It’s when Jonze presents another technical possibility that a unique, and dare I say plausible, love story emerges.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) writes love letters for a living; a romantic profession that fits his introverted and lonely personality. Having recently split with his wife (Rooney Mara), he mopes from work to home, shrugging off invitations from co-workers (Chris Pratt) and long-time friends (Amy Adams and Matt Letscher). Intrigued by new software, he buys himself a new operating system. After answering only a couple quick set-up questions (including a very open ended “how is your relationship with your mother?”), and choosing a female voice for his new OS, Theodore’s new computer is up and running. She decides to call herself Samantha and with Scarlett Johansson’s sultry voice giving her life, it’s easy to see why Theodore instantly finds himself being pulled into deeper and deeper conversations with her.
Samantha has the ability to learn and adapt and through her newborn digital eyes Theodore begins to see the beauty in his ordinary life, not to mention a companion who always has his best interests at heart. Samantha’s unbridled curiosity and rapacious interest in Theodore are the sort of ingredients that would win any man’s heart. Given he’s also a romantic attuned to the power of words, it isn’t long until he is very much in love with this bodiless digital cloud of a dream girl.
Theodore and Samantha’s relationships have some obvious challenges, which seem surprisingly easily overcome. First off: public acceptance. Turns out people are falling for their operating systems on the regular, and this is a future where people ask very few questions. They overcome their physical differences, being that Samantha lacks any physical form whatsoever, and all I can say is, thank you Mr. Jonze for the black screen during that scene. Later Samantha does try to find herself a surrogate to be with Theodore, but it’s too uncomfortable for him and ends up being a strong “life” lesson for her in accepting her own form. Even the most basic of relational difficulties, jealousy, insecurity, boredom, all seem overcome in time. Instead it’s a more unanticipated technical difficulty that threatens their love in the end and there is no geek squad that can intervene in matters of the heart.
Her is well crafted and engaging to view, with many thoughtful details that include familiar LA locations. Production designer, and long-time Spike Jonze collaborator, K. K. Barrett has thought up a future that seems like it could be one trend away from being the current LA; and set decorator Gene Serdena styles Theodore’s futuristic home in a way that would have the Jetson’s drooling.
Joaquin Phoenix seems to do his best work when given an introverted character, allowing his eyes to convey both the loneliness of Theodore and his reawakening. He and Johansen have a subtle chemistry, the only kind a man and his computer could convey, but one that is believable and endearing. Johansen puts many a voiceover actor to shame, and it’s not hard to imagine the very facial expressions Samantha would make if there were a face to go with that voice.
Whether Jonze really intends for there to be any sort of moral message isn’t exactly obvious. Relationships grow, both together and apart. People, and technology, can and do change. What magic keeps any couple together? It’s really the same old love story we’ve heard a million times, but it never gets old when it’s told right. Society may or may not be headed toward this future possibility, but it can be counted as certain that people will always be looking for love, in whatever form it can and may eventually take. And it’s that age-old quest, reflected in both Theodore and Samantha, that makes Her a fantastic film.