Jack Woodward reviews Spike Jonze’s new film Her, about the wonderfully weird and heart-warming relationship between a man and his intelligent operating system.
Her, the new film by the critically acclaimed Spike Jonze, has some core elements strikingly similar to the 2003 feature that brought leading lady Scarlett Johansson critical acclaim: Lost in Translation. Both films are romantically inclined and focused on exploring themes of loneliness and human connection in locations that are decisively not lonely. They both feature brilliant performances, lovely cinematography and a great soundtrack. But Her is without a doubt the superior film for one simple reason – it has heart. Real, genuine heart.
Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely, sensitive man called Theodore in a startlingly believable, only slightly evolved future. Everyone still depends on their phones, walking around and not physically engaging with one another, except now they use voice commands. Theodore works at a company that creates handwritten letters for those that struggle to express their feelings, and in the midst of divorcing his wife, isn’t quite sure what he wants romantically in life. He decides on a whim to buy an advanced intelligent operating system, and soon enough, Scarlett Johansson’s voice is there, asking him to call her Samantha.
The way the relationship between Theodore and Samantha develops is wonderfully believable. Much like online relationships we see happening today, we may never see Samantha, but she never stops feeling like a real person. Samantha and Theodore have long, extended conversations on the nature of connection, what it means to be human, and life on the whole. The conclusions Theodore and Samantha reach are similarly human in that they’re never 100% certain about anything. It helps that Scarlett Johansson’s voice perfectly suits the sweet, kind nature of her character, or should I say, operating system. The directions of their relationship takes several dramatic, unexpected turns but along the way Her manages to be surprisingly funny, at times with a sense of vulgar humour that reflects Jonze’s history as Jackass co-creator.
What makes Her such a warm, touching journey, however, is the convincing and honest way in which it portrays relationships, showing that love is not the be all and end all. Theodore’s handling of a blind date isn’t particularly good, and when he talks to Samantha about it, he admits he could’ve done a better job, but was too emotionally confused to do so. The brief glimpses of the history with Theodore and his ex-wife Catherine, played by Rooney Mara, show both the good and the bad. And yet by the end of it all, he still has positive things to say about their time together. Even the relationship Theodore has with Samantha evolves and changes in directions he’s not entirely happy with, but he’s also willing to take them for what they are, and give her some space.
Samantha tells Theodore, ‘The past is just a story we tell ourselves’. Her successfully shows the nature of love because it knows those stories are imperfect. Yet the film looks at the light at the end, rather than the tunnel.
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara