Her is a sweet, romantic tale set in the not-too-distant future. Disillusioned writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has been estranged from his wife (played by Rooney Mara) for nearly a year, but just can’t bring himself to sign their divorce papers. As he retreats from real-life interaction he buys himself a brand new, artificially-intelligent operating system for his computer, who names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha and Theodore begin to get close, and eventually fall in love.
Her is about a lonely man, and the connections that lonely man tries to make to avoid that loneliness. Spike Jonze has taken our obsession with social media, gaming and technology to a logical conclusion, showing Theodore grasping out into the digital ether for something, someone, to cling on to.
We first see Theodore indulging in the digital world in what turns out to be a very funny, if warped, cyber-sex chat with a stranger that leaves him distinctly unsatisfied, and further hardens his cynicism against real-life. He spends his evenings playing 3D video games, and retreats further into the world of technology. “I sometimes think I have felt everything I’m going to feel” he opines. While he does so, sentient O.S. Samantha is simultaneously reaching back from her digital home , trying to find something solid in the corporeal realm to help her understand all the new knowledge she is acquiring.
As Theodore negotiates his way around the real-world it soon becomes apparent that he is not the only one who has retreated in to technology, with scenes of passers-by all hooked up to their ear-pieces and screens, presumably conversing with other artificial beings and not the human beings around them. The not-too-distant future looks not unlike the present.
Theodore’s friends and neighbours, Amy and Charles (Amy Adams and Matt Letscher) occasionally intrude on his home-life, as does his affable boss Paul (Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt), but this is largely a tale of one man and his computer girlfriend. As such Joaquin Phoenix gets a lot of screen time, and he makes the best use of it, being both awkward and oddly charming.
In the hands of Spike Jonze the concept of a man being in love with an operating system is elevated above being a weird oddity or social commentary, and becomes a very sweet, touching, story about the search for love. Of course there is a great deal of social commentary too. Not only does Jonze have a lot to say about our relationship with technology, but also about our expectations of our relationships with each other. Central to the film is the concept of growth and letting go, something which the Theodore at the start of the film seems resolutely incapable of, stuck in his emotional development at the time when he met his wife. Interestingly the issues you might think would emerge as obstacles to the relationship between Theodore and Samantha never do, with some twists coming in the tale.
Visually the film is very striking, all clean, not-too-distant futuristic lines, blue and grey tones of the city punctuated with occasional flashes of warm orange hues. Theodore’s apartment is a goldfish bowl of sorts, allowing him to see the vast city below him, but also emphasising his own loneliness. The tweaks to futuristic fashion are great too, with moustaches and high waisted trousers which abruptly stop just above the shoe seemingly in vogue (some may say not unlike Jonze’ own hipster style).
Her is both a sweet and melancholic take on the traditional romantic comedy, given a distinctly Spike Jonze twist.