“Her” is much more than a love story.
By Mike Dyer, Senior Writer
One of the films nominated for Best Picture this year at the Oscars is one about the trials and tribulations of relationships. To put it in a sentence: “Her” is a film about a guy who is dating his computer. Beyond that, it is a film that deals with current themes of the evolution of technology and how it affects our lives. Directed by Spike Jonze, “Her” is a beautifully shot film filled with naturally acted characters and a setting that lies in a future that doesn’t seem so far away.
“Her” is the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). Theodore is a writer working for a company that writes touching, personal letters on behalf of its clientele. Despite his natural talent as a writer Theodore is currently divorcing his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara) and has not signed the divorce papers, as he is reluctant to let go of her. Alone and depressed Theo purchases an Operating System; an artificially intelligent computer program to act as a companion and personal assistant. Theo’s Operating System (OS) names herself Samantha. Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is quick to pick up on Theo’s faults and Theo is quick to pick up on how smart and engaging Samantha is. Within a few weeks Theo’s outlook on life has changed and he finds himself dating Samantha. Encouraging this union is Theo’s college friend, Amy (Amy Adams), who does not think Theo is crazy as “love is a socially acceptable from of insanity.” As their relationship evolves so does Samantha’s understanding of humanity and she begins to discuss her thoughts with other OS’s, causing tension in her and Theo’s relationship and leaving both with reservations about their relationship.
While the premise of the film sounds like something from a 1980s comedy, “Her” refrains from the laugh out loud humor, but charms the viewer with immerse visuals and a stellar cast. Joaquin Phoenix is almost unrecognizable as Theodore. Take away the glasses and the mustache and he would still seem unfamiliar to you as his quirkiness and depressed expressions complete the mask that is Theodore Twombly. While we never see her on screen; Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha is charming and intellectual. I give her credit as her performance expresses true reactive emotion, making the banter between Samantha and Theodore realistic and memorable. Helping the story along is Amy Adams as Theodore’s college friend Amy whose honesty allows the audience to engage in the film. I just wish she would have engaged in a hair stylist. Additional cast includes Olivia Wilde as a Amelia ,Theo’s blind date, and Chris Pratt as Theo’s co-worker Paul who both add flavor and character to the film. For myself I found it fun picking up on the handful of voice cameos, such as Kristen Wiig and Brian Cox.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is the world that Spike Jonze was able to develop, explore and engage the audience in with a running time just over two hours.
Taking place in 2025, the film utilizes technology that doesn’t seem too farfetched with the recent advances in video game play and the reveal of Google Glass. Giving these aspects stability is the elements of society like a double date with one human couple and the other couple is a one part human and one part OS. Truth be told, the film is so cleverly written and performed that it feels much more like a film about relationships, rather than a story about a guy who is dating his computer. Cinematography was done in Los Angles as well as Shanghai, thus giving the film a setting that is different and familiar all the same. Jonze’s lighting approach is perhaps a bit diluted and overexposed, but gives the film a dream like quality.
Yes, it would be fair to describe the film as a science fiction, philosophical love story set in a future that is almost touchable, but “Her” really is a film about the integration of technology in our lives and the relationships we have with it. In recent years, I have asked myself what happens when we get too close to technology. Do we lose part of ourselves or does technology allow us to answer the necessary questions we need to ask ourselves in life? “Her” dances on this idea and just when you think you might have an answer the film finishes on a philosophical high note. This just shows how it can take a film about an unconventional relationship to show us how many conventional relationships work and how we grow from them when they fail.