The story of a man falling in love with a machine has been told many times before. So is the story of a machine struggling to find a way to be human. Both exist in director Spike Jonze’s romantic dramedy “Her,” which breathes new life into these tales by using seamless naturalism and beautiful production quality.
The setting is a stylized vision of future Los Angeles, where building interiors look like the inside of a Microsoft store, high-waisted pants and having a personal relationship with an operating system is normal, as evidenced by the countless people conversing with theirs during their daily commute.
It’s the world in which our hero Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, lives in. At first glance, he may seem reserved. Unsociable, perhaps. However, once people start talking to him, they realize he is insightful, witty and perhaps, even lovable. Those were obviously special qualities to his estranged wife, played by Rooney Mara.
Theodore spends much of his time reminiscing on better days with his wife, while trying to convince himself to follow through with their pending divorce.
One day, out of curiosity, he buys an operating system that communicates and evolves as the owner continues to use it. Basically, it’s a more advanced “human” version of iPhone’s Siri that can pick up on social cues and make critical judgements. After a quick assessment of Theodore’s personality, the software is up and ready to use, calling itself “Samantha” and taking on the persona of a woman.
Theodore starts by using Samantha for various tasks like checking missed calls and emails, but then they start to hit it off pretty fast. It seems crazy at first for him to have a relationship with an operating system (OS), but as events in his life continue to take a toll, he continues needing someone to talk to. Someone almost tailored for him. Like Samantha. Over time, he becomes more comfortable with the idea of being close to an OS, but should he? The line between having a relationship with a machine and having one with a human being often gets blurred throughout the movie.
Even though it takes place in a universe invented in Jonze’s head, it’s almost frightening how close this reality is to our world. People have conversations with Siri when they’re bored. You can instant message a computer and have it reply automatically. Who’s to say that Jonze’s world won’t be the norm in the next few years?
Only Scarlett Johansson’s voice as Samantha is present in this movie, but really, that’s all you need to feel her emotion. The weight of her raspy voice as she struggles to be human is heavy, which is countered by a charmingly awkward performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
Other cast members include Amy Adams as Amy, a game designer and close friend and Chris Pratt as Paul, Theodore’s enthusiastic and sociable co-worker. As melodramatic as the plot may sound, the movie finds depth at some unexpected moments, but still knows not to take itself too seriously. The writing is refreshingly natural, with dialogue that never seems out of character or awkward.
The direction is smooth and evenly paced. Almost every shot makes everyday life seem so saturated and photogenic. Overall, “Her” is a masterful take on the developing relationship humans are making with machines. It is as stimulating to the mind as it is to the eyes and is a worthy contender for Best Picture at the Academy Awards next month.