'Her' is the story of a man who falls in love with his computer's operating system.
From that brief description, you might imagine that it's a silly comedy that wrings laughs out of such an unlikely premise; or maybe a cautionary sci-fi fable that warns us about the dangers of becoming too attached to technology. Instead, however, Spike Jonze's film is an incredibly genuine-feeling love story that's played absolutely straight, and which ends up having far more to say about human emotions and our interactions with each other than it does about our relationship with technology.
Occupying a near-future setting that's initially apparent only through fairly subtle visual clues - like the strangely straight-laced and high-waisted fashion choices, the increasing influence of oriental culture on Los Angeles, or the car-free mass-transit bullet-train system that the film's commuters use to get to work - the story centres around the character of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). Theodore is a down-on-his-luck writer who's just coming out of a difficult divorce, and who seeks companionship in a newly-released, unusually-advanced artificially-intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson), which immediately chooses the name of Samantha.
From that admittedly unusual starting point, we see the pair's relationship develop in largely the same ways that you would expect from a story about two human beings. There are pointers from the start that the two are attracted to each other - Samantha's programming is designed to enable her to learn and develop through her contact with him, and we quickly see her subtly imitating his speech patterns and vocabulary as they get to know each other - and their rapport quickly progresses to the same kind of interactions that you'd expect from the early stages of a human romantic relationship. Theodore takes Samantha on dates (carrying her around in his pocket via an omnipresent smartphone-like device); they share their life experiences with each other (Samantha turns out to be great at helping to keep Theodore organised, and encouraging his creative endeavours); and they're even able to have sex (after a fashion).
By playing the relationship so straight, writer-director Jonze sidesteps the questions or problems that viewers might have with such an unlikely pairing, making their relationship so relatable and human that it's impossible not to root for them in the same way that you would for any other couple. Which makes it all the more interesting when things get more complicated, and Theodore starts to question his decision to date a computer system. This is partly due to occasionally-uncomfortable situations that result from Samantha's increasing awareness of the world and her desire to participate in it on a more human level (even going so far as to organise a physical human sex-surrogate for herself), and partly due to Theodore's increasing neuroses about his past relationship, and whether there's an inherent aspect of himself that dooms his relationships to failure.
Amid all of this seriousness and soul-searching, however, there's plenty of gentle humour too, which satirises various aspects of modern life. As well as the regular establishing shots of smartphone-obsessed individuals sleepwalking through their lives, another good example is Theodore's job: the writer works for a company that writes fake-handwritten letters for people to send to each other without having to go through the effort of actually writing and sending them themselves (like a more advanced Moonpig, I guess). Like many of the concepts in the film, it's a little bit silly but not completely implausible, and keeps us invested in the reality of Jonze's imagined future while providing just enough of a twist to effectively satirise the real world.
Where 'Her' succeeds most, though, is in creating atmospheric, emotional (but not saccharine) scenes that encourage us to reflect on our own feelings as much as those of the characters in the film. The mood is enhanced by a lovely understated soundtrack by indie-rock musicians Arcade Fire, coupled with some beautiful photography and well-paced scenes that showcase Jonze's excellent judgement for just how long to let a scene linger: long enough for us to really understand the emotional significance of a moment, but not so long that it ever feels like he's milking it or overplaying it.
In fact, the restrained quality of 'Her' feels akin to that other great Johansson movie, 'Lost In Translation' - and like 'Lost In Translation', much of this film's success rests on its two excellent leads. Phoenix is the major on-screen presence throughout the entire movie, and is frequently called on to carry the emotional weight of a scene through facial expressions or body-language alone (especially given Jonze's predilection for tight facial close-ups that really test the actor's ability to convey genuine human emotion). But Johansson - despite only appearing in voiceover - is also required to undertake quite a difficult balancing act in convincing the audience that Theodore's operating system is both an artificial creation and a characterful individual in her own right, and something that could really be the object of genuine human affection. The entire movie depends on the rapport between these characters, and the two actors pull off the relationship flawlessly, supported by solid appearances from Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde as some of the other women in Theodore's life.
To spell out where the story goes in its final act would be to rob 'Her' of its surprises, many of which are not developments that you'll necessarily see coming. But as unexpected as some of them are, they also make perfect sense given the nature of the characters and the direction in which the story is travelling - and each one serves to strengthen Jonze's detailed exploration of human emotion, rather than distracting from it. And so what could have been a silly and disposable premise ends up being the basis for something quite unexpected, understated, and beautiful - a highly original story that uses an unconventional premise to tackle one of the oldest subjects of all: love. And it does so wonderfully.
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Spike Jonze directs this award-winning drama following Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer who falls in love with a sentient operating system. Newly separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore works for a company that composes love letters for those who lack the creativity to pen their own. Growing more and more isolated from the outside world, his curiosity is piqued by a campaign advertising the latest artificially intelligent operating system. When he is first introduced to his new technological assistant Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) he is surprised by her ever-growing emotionality and fresh way of looking at the world. As time passes, Theodore finds himself connecting with Samantha in ways he could never have imagined... The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won for Best Original Screenplay (Jonze), for which it also received the Golden Globe.
Please note this is a region B Blu-ray and will require a region B or region free Blu-ray player in order to play. Spike Jonze directs this award-winning drama following Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer who falls in love with a sentient operating system. Newly separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore works for a company that composes love letters for those who lack the creativity to pen their own. Growing more and more isolated from the outside world, his curiosity is piqued by a campaign advertising the latest artificially intelligent operating system. When he is first introduced to his new technological assistant Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) he is surprised by her ever-growing emotionality and fresh way of looking at the world. As time passes, Theodore finds himself connecting with Samantha in ways he could never have imagined... The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won for Best Original Screenplay (Jonze), for which it also received the Golden Globe.