Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara
There’s a lot going on in the fourth film from director, Spike Jonze – ruminations on our relationship with technology, the inherent loneliness of the urbanised human, the life cycle of relationships, the nature of consciousness, identity and selfhood, and more – but at its heart, it’s a love story. The thing is, it’s a love story between a lonely man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, or at least her voice), an artificially intelligent computer operating system with the capacity to learn from experience.
Straight out of the gate, Her speaks of loneliness and the difficulties of honest, open communication. Twombly works for a company that writes personal letters for those who lack either the time or the ability to do so themselves. He’s great at his job, but at the same time is putting off signing divorce papers following the failure of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara). Socially isolated and emotionally fragile, is it any wonder he bonds with Samantha, the Siri-like tech toy he bought on a whim?
What really makes Her stand out from the pack is the way it treats the character of Samantha, detailing not only the growing relationship between her and Twombly, but also her growth as a self aware being and her relationship to the world. Her status as a non-physical entity is addressed – a sequence with a human sex surrogate ends disastrously – as is her capacity for learning and growing far beyond human mental capabilities. At first Twombly is delighted by her ability to read a book in nanoseconds, but is appalled when she is capable not only of holding simultaneous conversations with hundreds of partners, but of loving more than one person, unfettered by human social and emotional conventions.
This makes Her not just a great love story but also great science fiction, the relatively minor technological fictions depicted in the film being used to explore and comment on universal human emotions and experiences. The future Jonze details is the very near now and viewers will recognise familiar habits, behaviours and technologies that are only slightly exaggerated for comic effect. The mum-simulator game Twombly is shown by his friend, Amy (Amy Adams) is funny as hell, but it’s not exactly a quantum leap from The Sims or any of a thousand social media games out there right now.
And Her is funny – for all its heady themes and intelligent probing, it’s a frequently hilarious film when it isn’t busy being painfully accurate and soberingly trenchant. This is easily Jonze’s most assured film yet; tellingly, it’s also his first solo effort as screenwriter as well. A complex, layered, nuanced piece that retains a direct and achingly familiar emotional throughline, Her is simply a fantastic piece of cinema.