One could easily define a relationship as the inclusion of another person into their life, good or bad, whether as a friend, relative, co-worker, or romantic companion. And that definition can easily be expanded to include pets, places, and even inanimate objects; queue Office Space printer sequence. Spike Jonze’s Her explores this unique gift humans are able to forge between other people, places, and things in one of the best, most beautifully told stories of the year.
In the not-so-distant-future where everyone has their own automated assistant, synced to a handheld computer that communicates via ear piece – think Siri but more advanced –we meet Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), an intelligently humble writer who has a knack for understanding the relationships of others but not his own. Theodore works for a company that is hired to create compelling, personal handwritten letters to loved ones as if written by the client.
Enter OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system for personal use. Right away Theodore installs OS1 to his computer, and after a series of questions – one including his preference in a female OS – he is introduced to Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a name chose after she read through thousands of names from a baby name book in a fraction of a second.
Samantha is able to learn from Theodore, along with anyone else she comes in contact with, how to become more human in order to work in favor of Theodore’s daily routine. As they begin to work together, Samantha’s curiosity reaches very intimate topics that have Theodore at odds with his flourishing relationship with his new OS. While questioning Theodore about human connection and the feeling of loss and love, especially about his former marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara), a special link forms between man and machine.
Scarlett Johansson puts on one of the best performances she has ever done, and is never on-screen once. Her voice acting is inspiring for someone who has minimal work in the field. Every moment she has with Joaquin Phoenix is so natural and charismatic it’s as if she is in the room with him physically. If ScarJo voiced Siri I’d be more inclined to use the feature. Phoenix’s ability to construct this outstanding chemistry with no one to work with is awe-inspiring. His range of emotion is complex and exciting to watch. His wardrobe however is a completely different discussion for another time. Amongst all of the laughter, affection, and sadness, Her brilliantly captures the raw essence of sharing a life with someone thanks to Joaquin and Scarlett’s incredible talents.
What Theodore and Samantha have feels far more organic than any Katherine Heigl movie could ever dream of achieving. Because most romantic stories introduce two characters forced together through happenstance and wacky hijinks. Her takes the road less traveled by taking its time with its characters by showing an honest, emotionally resonating story of how a relationship truly works. Learning through the thick and the thin, they grow as individuals to love and appreciate each other. Spike Jonze has always been a director to harness the power of this kind of character building, and Her nails it out of the ballpark.
It’s not just this overly convincing bond between Theodore and Samantha that makes this film a smash success, but you can also give credit to the emotionally unobtrusive score by Arcade Fire and the visual eye of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (The Fighter; Let the Right One In). From the pastel colors to the soft lighting, everything works in Her’s favor to heighten the atmosphere our lovebirds inhabit.
Like most relationships, Theodore and Samantha’s isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Trust and loyalty are tested while another shade of the story unfolds. And as comfortable as Jonze allows the situation between the two to come into its own, there are striking parallels of how attached we are to our technology today. If your eyes are able to take a moment away from Ted and Sam you’ll notice there are very few instances of humans interacting with someone else, everyone is regularly “plugged in.”
There are very nice and sometimes tense moments where Theodore interacts with similar beings of the fleshy variety, such with his neighbor Amy (Amy Adams), his ex-wife Catherine, and a tasty cameo by Chris Pratt. Each character brings their own perspective, weighing the pros and cons we need as an audience to gain that outside human perspective. I never felt this notion of detaching from our technology to be contrived in any way. The message gained is neatly woven into the story and appreciated, because when it’s all said and done we only have each other.
We as humans will continually make and break relationships throughout our lives, shaping the very person we become until we inevitably pass on. And every once in a while someone comes our way that makes us swerve left when we were heading right. Her is a great reminder to relish in what we are capable of creating with another individual, and to make the best of what we have with that person in the time we are allotted. And that is truly beautiful.
What did you think about Her? Tell us in the comment section below.
Her is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, with a wide release on January 10, 2014. Directed by Spike Jonze, with a run time of 126 minutes, this film has been rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. (Watch the trailer here)
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