“Her” is a strange marvel of a film. In all its weird eccentricity and through its unconventional subject matter, it manages to tell us much more about human relationships than your average romance story.
The story manages to be both erudite and childish simultaneously. Writer/director Spike Jonze explores themes of technological advancement without falling into the indolent and all too frequently expressed viewpoint that “technology is ruining our youth.” As a society we are constantly communicating with people we love through text messages, voicemails, Skype and Facebook chat. Jonze strips a layer back from that and asks the question, what if we are also in love with the conduit of those services? What if someone fell in love with a operating system?
The film is set in an unspecified not too distant future and takes place in a dreamlike amalgamation of Los Angeles and Shanghai. Theodore Twombly, played by the immensely talented Joaquin Phoenix, is a writer at a company that creates love letters for people who don’t have the time to sit down and handwrite them themselves. He is constantly channeling love for others despite the lack of his own.
Theodore is going through a divorce that has transformed him into a husk-like pile of depression. He tells his phone to play him a “melancholy song” when riding the elevator and shuffling down the streets on his way home from work. He uses phone sex lines in between playing video games and moping in his dark apartment. He is the perfect candidate for the new operating system that is able to develop and learn while providing companionship for its owner.
OS1 is played by the amiable voice of Scarlett Johansson. It operates mostly from a handheld device and earpiece that becomes more of a necessity to Theodore as the movie progresses.
The system software was developed to evolve, and does so based around its shared experience with Theodore. They eventually get around the strange circumstances that they exist in and fully embrace their fixation on each other. The die was cast from the moment OS1′s voice squeaked into existence.
Thanks to the impeccable direction from Spike Jonze we see this relationship unfurl cautiously and realistically. One of the most moving scenes plays out when Theodore lays sprawled out next to the ocean with a unabashed smile on his face as OS1 composes a piece of music that describes its feelings of being together with him on the beach.
Her is a daring and effective film. Jonze’s direction and humor, Phoenix and Johansson’s fragile performances, Hoyte van Hoytema’s beautiful color pallet and a soulful score from Arcade Fire all come together harmoniously to create a raw stroke of genius. It is one of the most poignant reflections on love committed to film, or what Theodore’s closest friend refers to as “kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”