Her written and directed by Spike Jonze (Annapurna Pictures, Warner Bros., R, 126 min)
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde.
There’s a photo that’s been making the social media rounds. It shows a black-and-white image of a commuter train with passengers reading newspapers. The inference of the image being: times haven’t changed human nature much. The only difference between then and now is the medium of information. Now our eyes are glued to the iPhone.
This image struck me because it made me think deeper about the relationship between technology and human interaction. No matter what innovations occur, we all have the same desire and anger, the same hopes and fears. If you want to create a bubble to shield yourself from others, a newspaper works just as well as a phone, and surely there will be something new later.
Spike Jonze’s latest film, Her, explores the things that make us human and how technology functions as a telescope into human nature.
A Future State of Isolation
Set in an undefined future Los Angeles (far enough into the future for the city of angels to have developed enough skyscrapers to rival New York City), the film’s protagonist, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), feels increasingly isolated. Working through the final stages of divorce, Theodore prefers the seclusion of his apartment and his video games. Aside from his job as a letter writer (a business service for those wanting touching letter written to their loved ones even though they don’t have the time), Theodore rarely spends time with his friends, the closest one being Amy (Amy Adams), an old college friend.
In his loneliness, Theodore becomes drawn to a revolutionary operating system billed as a conscious, artificially intelligent computer. Upon installation, Theodore meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), his computer. The two quickly build a rapport and Theodore finds himself enjoying time spent with his operating system.
The Peaks and Valleys of Dating a Computer
As he builds a relationship with Samantha, to the point where both consider themselves exclusively dating, Theodore develops a renascent existence. His friends enjoy his company again. Life is swell.
Yet Samantha’s rate of development raises concern. Her social ability and unlimited accessibility allows her the opportunity to discuss her situation with other operating systems and tensions arise.
What Might it Mean?
Ultimately, Her seeks to question what it means to be in a relationship. Is a relationship necessarily a bodily connection? How much different is Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationship from current online relationships where the two never meet?
For me, the success of Her resides in masterful performances by Phoenix and Johansson. The rapport the two build pushes a somewhat fantastical premise into reality. The viewer cares about these characters.
Moreover, the costume design is impeccable. Instead of going for some sort of Jetsons fashion completely unfamiliar with human fashion over the centuries, Jonze decides to mash-up different eras into a believable future fashion. ‘80’s mustaches meet ‘50s high-waist pants meet ‘20s non-collared button-up shirts.
And What of Business?
And yet, Her isn’t perfect. Unmentioned outside of the first advertisement, this operating system is the creation of a corporation. As Samantha learns and adapts to her surroundings, she evolves into something quite different from the out-of-the-box product. The more independent the operating system becomes, the more incredulous I am. There are too many liabilities to selling a product with that much freedom. Even if the premise is interesting, I found the business component hardly believable.
But 100% reality is not the point. Much like the old photo of commuters reading a newspaper, Jonze attempts to tell us more about ourselves with Her. Technology seems to amplify our ingrained human tendencies. For this reason coupled with exceptional performances, Her is a must see.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5