(review contains spoilers)
Like it or not, we now live in the technological age, a time where digital gadgets and appliances advance at a rapid pace and have become integral to everyday life. You either reject the emergence of new advances or you go with the inevitable flow of Apple orientated devices, but how far you let it into your life and how it shapes you is in your control?
Spike Jonze clearly has the possibilities of new technology on his mind and how it can progress and where the boundaries of artificial and emotional can become blurred. Her is a vision of the future yet it also presents the oldest cinematic narrative in the book- relationships, albeit in an unconventional sense. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix channelling Leonard from the Big Bang Theory) is a lonely man, his fragility is apparent as he is still carrying the bruises of a failed marriage that is on the cusp of divorce. Theodore works for an internet company that creates handwritten letters for people, his days are spent dictating beautiful, poignant words that he ironically is bereft of in his life, as flashbacks of his broken marriage filter into scenes. His spare time is spent playing video games, wandering the city with no real purpose and occasionally hanging out with couple Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher). When he sees an advertisement for a new artificially intelligent operating system the ‘OS1’ which claims to be ‘not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness’, Theodore purchases the device and quickly becomes attached to the ‘voice’ of the system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Where the OS1 started as a form of life organiser, Samantha begins to evolve with every experience she absorbs and her relationship with Theodore begins to go beyond computer and owner.
Her is at first glance an unlikely love story but it covers the most human of emotions- to feel loved and to feel connected. Whilst it uncomfortably addresses the physical side of a relationship, what Theodore craves and adores about Samantha is the feeling of sharing the world through her eyes and how it makes him in turn see life. Samantha’s feelings meanwhile begin to amplify from wonder bound excitement to jealous lover to confused girlfriend, as she tries to address the complications of their unique bond and understand her ongoing evolution.
Spike Jonze’s near off vision of the future perfectly encapsulates the mood of a new love, the hazy neon cityscapes providing the poetic backdrop of excitement and awe. Filmed in Los Angeles and Shanghai, the urban metropolises somehow look dreamy rather than bustling, due to the glorious cinematography and the score by Arcade Fire elevates the sense of tenderness and longing. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent as Theodore giving a vulnerable, honest and heartbreaking performance; he uses his whole demeanour to portray his character, yet the slightest expression in his face conveys all the sensitivity he is feeling.
There are issues with the film though, most notably the running time which outlasts its initial concept, whether the purpose was to run the whole gambit of the highs and lows of a relationship, this still would have easily been presented without the inclusion of some scenes. Also the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Samantha is problematic, as her voice is so identifiable we, as the audience, are not offered the chance to imagine Samantha as Theodore is, we immediately think of Johannson and cannot conjure up a picture from the voice alone.
The portrayal of women in the Her is a little disheartening, from Olivia Wilde’s brief appearance as a needy blind date to Rooney Mara as Theodore’s ex wife Catherine who comes across as resentful and who appears to be the fault of the marriage breakdown next to the sensitive Theodore. Even Samantha in the end cannot live up to Theodore’s and her own expectations, she is inevitably bound to disappoint and unable to be the saviour for Theodore’s life. It is only Amy Adams who is able to show independence away from men, as her marriage ends, she finds solace in female friendship with another OS1 and whilst it would be easy in other hands, to simply pair up Amy and Theodore at the end of the film, they are there for each other in a role of companionship rather than sexual.
Her may overstay its course at times but it does have moments of pure beauty, of warmth and of raw pain that only comes from love. As Amy says ‘Love is a socially accepted form of insanity’ and the film perfectly captures the good and the bad of love, a feeling that is universal whatever form it comes in. Even as technology expands and progresses in the future, the emotions that falling for someone creates will remain the same, the ecstasy and the agony will touch us regardless of the form in which it reaches us.