Spike Jonze’s Her is a sweet, poignant and yet gently chilling romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, it’s been met with critical acclaim. It features a fascinating conceit which is deeply explored and contains some beautiful set and costume design as well as some exceptional performances. Why is it then that I found it as cold as a hibernating laptop?
It’s 2025 and Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter writer in Los Angeles. His marriage has failed and he’s delaying the signing of his divorce papers, holding out for a second chance which he knows is never going to come. Desperately lonely, he’s become a slight recluse, distancing himself from friends while maintaining a false sunny disposition in their company. One day Theodore sports a newly released operating system (OS) in a mall, one which promises to learn and adapt, whose artificial intelligence is designed to be more than a computer but to be a friend. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as the OS calls herself, becomes Theodore’ friend and soon, his lover.
What makes Her so good is just how believable the plot is. In just a few years since the invention of the smart phone, our habits have altered considerably and we spend less time interacting face to face than at any other point in history. I personally speak to friends much more online than in person and I’m certain I’m not alone with that. The film follows on from recent developments in human relationships and technology and comes to an entirely conceivable outcome – human/computer relationships. The film’s OS is adaptable and pre-programmed to be a good match for its user, meaning that there is only ever one logical outcome. No matter what, it would be nearly impossible not to get on with your artificially intelligent OS because it would simply alter itself to suit your wants and needs.
I liked what the film had to say about the state of human interaction and loneliness in groups. Many of us who live in large cities, go from day to day without greeting our neighbours, commuting in a self made technological cocoon of screens and headphones. Her runs with these ideas and takes us forward, into a beautifully designed future in which we are almost unaware of our surroundings. This idea in particular was one of many in the film that reminded me of Pixar’s Wall-E. Where the film falls down in its exploration is with regards to the wider world. Rarely do we hear about other people’s experiences or the major news that people can date their computers. This may be perhaps because like Theodore, we’re so engrossed in the micro, unaware of the macro world beyond our screen and earpiece. I also thought that the general lack of fanfare at the release of the new OS was a little odd when considering the amount of pomp and media coverage the latest Apple product generates. What left me cold was the lack of heat in the central relationship. I never really bought into it and although there were laughs, thrills and spills, I couldn’t warm to it.
Overall though, the script is incredibly strong and packed full of interesting ideas and complex discussions about the nature of love and reality. Unfortunately, I felt as though some of these discussions went on a little too long and the film’s two hour plus felt longer than it actually was. Fortunately though, the frame is filled with incredibly beautiful landscapes and attention grabbing design. The Los Angeles of the near future is recognisably familiar yet strangely alien. Numerous skyscrapers dot the landscape, towering over people, walking and talking with their OS. Two weeks worth of filming in the modern metropolis of Shanghai definitely helped the film to find its futuristic setting. Despite the technology and architecture, the setting is timeless. This is made possible with retro set and costume design which is reminiscent of the 1960s. Computer screens are wood paneled and clothes are suitably old fashioned, found in autumnal reds and oranges. The costumes look amazing and were one of my favourite aspects of the film but the clean lines of the sets and props were also alluring to the eye.
The acting is very good from top to bottom with Joaquin Phoenix delivering a fantastic performance as the lonely Theodore. He presents two versions of the character, one for them and one for us, not letting other people see the true him. It’s a much more complex performance than one first imagines and he’s excellent at all times. Rooney Mara gives a solid supporting performance while Amy Adams shines. Scarlett Johansson is wonderful as the sultry and seductive Samantha. It probably helps that the audience knows from whose lips the lines are being uttered but she’s likeable and flirtatious. There is chemistry between the two leads but as I’ve mentioned, I didn’t buy into the ‘physical’ relationship.
Overall I thought that Her was an eye opening and interesting movie. It subtly creates a sci-fi world which is reminiscent of our own while every detail looks incredible. For me though, it was a little long and sometimes dull but on the whole, it’s a fascinating watch, well worth spending a couple of hours investing in.
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