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So abundant and seamlessly integrated into the narrative of Spike Jonze’s Her is the exploration of love, and everything associated with that indescribable, crippling feeling, that immediately as the credits role it’s clear a repeat viewing is essential. So rare is it that a filmmaker has asked so many of the right questions about the nature of relationships and answered just enough of them in just the right ways. And so soul inflating is it to have a film, so outlandish and odd in basic premise, to organically connect with elements of life that we’ve all worked through in one way or another. The very fact that Jonze still finds the time to effortlessly combine science fiction elements and biting, often hilarious social satire is a testament to the brilliance of this tale and immediately stands not only a love story for our time but one that will only become more resonant as time passes.
Her examines love at levels that are simultaneously, and fundamentally, beyond us as human beings and as intimate and natural as we’ve ourselves experienced. The film doesn’t attempt to sell it as merely an illusion – a made-up fairytale for the deluded – nor does it spin it into something artificially fluffy and over romanticized. What is at play is as far from the emotions explored in most rom-coms as can be.
The way Jonze is able to explore these aspects comes from a multitude of directions, from having our central character of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) struggling through the all too familiar grind of heartbreak, to his very vocation and on to his friendship with a woman down the hall (Amy Adams). But the way Her really goes beyond the average constraints of a film tackling this subject is with its futuristic setting which blends the technological revolution and everything (good and bad) that journeys along with “progress.”
In the process of finalizing a divorce, Theodore purchases a new, highly advanced operating system which has the capacity to learn and evolve as it experiences the wonders of the world. Samantha, as she names herself and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is what springs forth from the software and he immediately becomes smitten not only because of her gentle, inquisitive nature but because they legitimately seem understand one another. From this launching point, and as we see their bond deepen, we are forced to ask ourselves if this love is real or some sort of sick delusion being perpetuated by a heartbroken individual and a piece of gadgetry just doing what it was programmed to do.
Yet the questions flood far beyond that as we then contemplate how to truly determine what “real” love is and if it has to be between two breathing humans to be true. I could quite literally expand on this very query for another 1000 words but instead I implore you to simply view the film and see for yourself what mindset emerges. On the flip side, Samantha, in all her advancement, struggles with having no physical body finds a divide that cannot be filled growing between them. Also intelligently explored is precisely how an AI such as this may ultimately evolve given the circumstances. As much as this all works as it plays out on screen, so much of this has uncomfortably authentic parallels to real relationships it achieves a whole new level of truthfulness.
Then of course there is the whole exploration of society’s descent into self imposed isolation, seeking out either artificial or easy emotional connections over the real thing. Her fascinatingly poses the question that this is both a deeply unsettling phenomenon but also a weirdly natural progression. In this futuristic world, flush with odd, vibrant fashion sense (and what appears to be the return of the moustache) the prevalence of technology, be it a sassy holographic video game or what is 24/7 connectivity is not overtly painted as mankind’s demise, and while that could turn out to be the case, Jonze doesn’t wish to look at it as merely black or white.
The performances of what are essentially three main leads are all tremendous, with Phoenix anchoring the film as our flesh and blood protagonist. Married with Jonze’s script, we meet with a gentle, sensitive, often introverted man, who within minutes feels like a real flesh and blood person and one we can sympathize with on this odyssey. There is both a naïveté and aura of frustration to this character and despite acting opposite nobody for a great deal of the film, he sells every second.
Much of why this on screen relationship works so well is due to Johansson’s transcendent voice, as with every word she makes us feel as if Samantha is standing before her eyes. Between this and her brilliant turn in Don Jon, this leading lady has unequivocally shown she is more than just a pretty face. Finally, in a memorable and crucial supporting role Adams as Theodore’s long-time friend is the foil to his digital connection and is a character through which some of the film’s most important revelations, and further questions, flow.
I fear that some may find Her to be too odd, and by looking to the fluorescent colors, focussing on the weirdness or simply psyching themselves out because of the very premise, they will miss what the film is really saying. I know that despite holding my attention throughout I still missed some of what this film was trying to get across. Despite the boldness and high concept at play, Jonze has no pretensions about what he is exploring and as such has crafted one of the most complex and unforgettable love stories ever put to film.