Review by Pete Mason
Spike Jonze’s tragic tale of human reliance on technology, “Her” provides one major lesson throughout the film – although we may seek and find solace in technology, technology can serve as a crutch and can never replace the connection we share with one another, as empty and unfulfilling as that may seem. Written and directed by Jonze, the film could be classified as Sci-Fi – heavy on the Sci, not so much on the Fi – creating a love story around the relationship between a man and his phone’s operating system.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombley, who is vacant and searching after the only relationship he seems to have known ends in divorce. A writer of letters with a personal touch (for handwrittenletters.com – also not too far off), he can make heartfelt connection when speaking these letters to his computer, but with humans he is not nearly as affectionate and relatable, even cold and distant at times. Enter OS1, and Samantha, the voice behind the OS (pleasantly and seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and his personality lightens up abundantly, giving him an outlet for his emotions and thoughts without the interference of awkwardness brought on by the human condition.
Johansson’s smart and sexy voice of the disembodied OS gains knowledge and develops a broader and greater personality as the film progresses, leading Theodore to begin thinking of and treating his OS as his girlfriend, which she reciprocates. While this may seem weird, it isn’t that far-fetched for people who have relationships over the internet with people they may never meet – who knows who that really is that you are chatting with on Twitter. Heck, some of them are bots! Theodore’s venture into dating his OS is taken step by step, not rushed, although you can see where this is going and ultimately, you have to expect heartbreak to come into play. This was where I found the movie to drag a little, or at least lose my attention. Of course, he ends up dating his OS. And yes, they have sex – weird, lights-off sex – but the payoff punch where not all is right in Theodore and Samantha’s relationship hits once, then twice, flooring you, and Theodore even worse.
It wasn’t a surprise that it would end, but how it happens in the span of two major scenes gives pause when reflecting on the nature of the relationship in the first place. The flipped script, where a human has broadened the mind of a computer to seek out more knowledge and experiences, as opposed to the traditional situation where a computer does that for humans, is fresh and at the same time quite a mindfuck.
A trip to a cabin in the woods – a weekend away for this couple – leads to Theodore’s realization of the reality behind his OS, and begins to take a true emotional toll on Theodore. Samantha once served as a piece of security, symbolized by a safety pin on his shirt pocket, so that the phone’s camera can peer out in the world. This safety and security that Samantha provides Theodore is not permanent, as the safety pin is not there at the start of the film, then a single pin emerges, then later on two. By the end of the film, the pins are gone. While the pin serves a physical purpose in providing her a vantage point on the world, it also serves as a symbol of how she makes him feel.
While there is no year specified in this future where an OS and human form emotional bonds, it does hint at the not-far-off future, one near the Singularity, predicted for 2042, where computers will outpace human beings in terms of intelligence, making computers on par with sentient beings. The growth of an OS like Samantha that can replicate human emotion isn’t far-fetched. In fact, it’s a little scary. That being said, the future in “Her” has incredible set design that shows the year the film is set in to be a realistic step forward and not “WOW, that’s what it will look like? Awesome!” Instead, the reaction is simply “Ah yes, that’s the future alright.”
Supporting Phoenix and Johannson is Amy (Amy Adams), Theodore’s friend who he can relate to and discuss Samantha with, but with whom he cannot have a strong relationship. Both rely on an OS, giving a hint at a future where human relationships are hampered by the technology that they created.
The winner of the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay last weekend, “Her” is rated R and is currently playing in local movie theaters. The film has also been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.