“Her” is an unusual and original science fiction story about romance and our emotional attachment to our personalized technology. There’s little by way of plot, and it centers entirely around one man, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix), and his relationship with his operating system.
Because the movie is entirely dependent on their dialogue, interactions, and personalities (simulated or otherwise), it plays out very much as a relationship drama. He’s going through a difficult divorce with his estranged wife (Rooney Mara), which he doesn’t want to face, and it pains him emotionally. He’s lonely and his job requires him to emotionally live through the lives of others.
There’s an interesting commentary on the way people live in this idealistic future. It seems to be a colorful and peaceful place where there’s little by way of poverty and strife, but much like now, people are constantly plugged into their gadgets. In this case the interaction is taken to a whole new level. Even though it’s a near paradise, there’s a strong sense of isolation and loneliness. There appears to be a general emotional distance between others, as though the only way for people to connect is via their middleman technology, which has now become smart enough to erase the need for other humans altogether.
Being extremely lonely, Theodore buys one of the OS models that come with a highly sophisticated AI, one capable of learning, adapting, evolving, and just being all around better than the human mind it’s meant to simulate. After a brief interview, his program is voice by Scarlett Johansson, giving one of the best performances of her career. That’s actually saying something since we do not see her. Ever. With only her voice she can be sexy and sultry or even kind and silly. She turned out to be an exceptionally convincing voice actress. Who knew?
The rest of the movie is just them, developing a relationship that becomes romantic and working around such a new and odd experience. One the one hand, it’s like any new couple getting to know each other and form their attractions, but at the same time…it’s a computer. It’s a digitally simulated voice and personality based on a ludicrous number of program settings and variables. While the voice acting is certainly emotional and convincing, making it easier to see how he could become so attracted to the program, it’s still difficult to not see the computer as just that. It’s an odd line the story treads and one that’s addressed throughout the movie.
All of her thoughts and “feelings” are code and programming, no matter how advanced. As their relationship grows and their feelings deepen, it’s interesting on the one hand, because the acting is exceptional and the dialogue is strong, but it’s still a guy acting out the typical ups and downs of a new and exciting relationship, but with a phone app. As they goof around like couples do (or more obviously when they have sex), I couldn’t help but occasionally see a man with his toy, talking to it and acting like a total spaz in public.
The greatest strengths lie in the writing, the acting, and the world created by director Spike Jonze. It’s a beautiful movie, filled with fun and creative ideas about the not-so-distant future. The little details are great, like how in the future the fashion will be whatever your grandfather is currently wearing. Let’s just say high pants and the ‘stache come back in a big way. The technology from the phones, computers, and videogames is believable and the cinematography makes the wonder of both Theodore and Samantha seem credible. There’s really good use of computer animation to enhance the scenes and the settings, but it never draws attention to itself. It is very much there to make the world believable.
The same can be said for the acting, and aside from Scarlett Johansson’s voice, the movie is carried by Joaquin Phoenix. He’s constantly onscreen, talking to himself basically, and yet he seems so natural and real. He’s not some eccentric weirdo, he’s an ordinary everyman. Joaquin Phoenix becomes the vulnerable and sensitive man he’s supposed to be, and it makes the leap of his unusual relationship with his computer seem easier to accept. It’s an incredible performance and another amazing role for him. Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, and Amy Adams round out the cast, each turning in strong supporting roles (though at this point no less is expected from Amy Adams).
“Her” is an interesting and unique sci-fi, brimming with ideas and powerful performances. It’s a fun hook on the relationship movie structure, and with the inclusion of the artificial intelligence, it blends existential ideas like the notion of humanity and what it means to love another, human or otherwise.