Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity
2 hr. 6 min.
It’s a little early for Valentine’s Day, but here is a full-fledged romance with a twist. A lonely writer. An intelligent woman. Long conversations at night. The heat of new love.
But writer and director Spike Jonze (Adaptation., Where the Wild Things Are) is not satisfied with a simple love story. This is a complex tale of how human emotions and computer technology become intertwined. A man falls for his new software system. The software system learns to love. They swoon, fight and separate. How is this different from most normal couples? Such is the idea that Jonze explores.
In a futuristic Los Angeles (actually Shanghai), Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional surrogate letter writer who is suffering through a painful divorce from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara).
To help him move past his grief, Theodore decides to buy a software system called OS 1, an intuitively designed program that promises to personally interact one-on-one with its user. It can speak, learn, adapt and grow in ways that are similar to humans. Choosing a female personality, Theodore is introduced to the voice of “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson).
What starts out as a fledgling friendship quickly becomes deeply romantic. Minus the actual body, Samantha engages him in personal conversations and Theodore responds with curiosity and amazement. Plugged into an earphone and a smart phone, they go out on dates, talk late into the night, and even become intimate.
The arc of a romance has its own cycle: first blush, getting acquainted, hot sex, a reality check, arguments and, eventually, breakup. It’s no different here. What is different is a basic assumption Theodore makes about Samantha and a secret that Samantha holds back. Following that arc and that revelation are what make this film particularly interesting.
Leave it to writer and director Jonze to try and pull off this story without losing too much credibility. But to enjoy it, you will have to believe in the characters (real and techno), and you will have to give some consideration to the idea that in the future, humanity and technology might not be so easy to differentiate.
Still, Jonze uses his characters wisely, jumping back and forth between Theodore’s real life and his techno life, using quiet moments and some great visual shots (plus a nice score by Arcade Fire) to contrast with the human turmoil that Theodore is experiencing.
The real question Jonze raises is this: What is love? Chemistry? Psychology? Memory? Technology? Can it be all of the above? All of these possibilities are explored in a way that’s intimate, sentimental and maybe, just maybe, prophetic.
He’s fortunate to have a good supporting cast. Phoenix, usually an edgy actor (Walk the Line and The Master), taps deeply into his emotional side. To his credit, he finds the right balance in his character and, as the movie progresses, is convincing as a man in love with both his wife and his software.
Johansson uses her voice to great effect: innocent sultry, curious, angry, sorrowful. She demonstrates that language in and of itself can be quite stimulating.
I think viewers’ reactions to Her will depend a great deal on their own willingness to roll with the premise and enjoy the conversations. It is a very quiet film with long, thoughtful interludes. Risky to be sure, but I believe Jonze understands the risk and pushes forward in ways that are delicate and thoughtful.
The longer you watch, the more you become intrigued by the nature of love itself. Part mystery, part human nature and perhaps, as current evidence shows, part technology. For those of us who have jumped fully into the 21st century, Her is a film whose idea and time might be just around the corner.