Spike Jonze’s brilliant new film Her left me speechless in ways that I had not anticipated. Similar to the characters within the film, I found myself unable to verbally express the emotions that I was feeling after the screening. It has been a while since a love story hit me in this way. Though my first instinct was to hit Facebook and Twitter to proclaim the virtues of the film, I found myself in a moment of pause as I reached for my cell phone. Reflecting on the mirror of society that Jonze’s film displays, I decided to put my phone back in my pocket and quietly walked back to my car more attuned to the blistering cold that was piercing through my body.
Awaking to the world around us is just one of numerous themes that Jonze’s touches on in his unique and engaging film. The premise of Her revolves around a man, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who has a gift for writing heartfelt personal letters for others, but whose own life is lacking joy. Trying to cope with the sadness and loneliness that his pending divorce to Catherine (Rooney Mara) has caused, Theodore begins to find solace in a new operating system that is intuitive to each user. Within moments of setting up the system, who calls itself “Samantha” (wonderfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson), Theodore is taken by how well she sizes up his overall character and life.
Samantha proves to be more than just a state of the art personal organizer. She displays humour, insight and a thirst for understanding what it means to be human. Over time their friendship turns into flirtation and eventually romance. However, things get complicated when Samantha evolves to the point where she finds herself attracted to another operating system.
The notion of a man getting romantically involved with an operating system may seem far-fetch on the surface, but one of the great charms of the film is how natural Jonze makes it feel. Considering our reliance on, and dare I say addiction to, technology it would have been easy for Jonze to simply focus on the satirical aspect of this. However, Her is concerned more with the disconnect that technology has caused. Despite the bright colour palette that is implored throughout the film, including Theodore’s clothing, technology has made life rather bleak. Theodore, like many others, is more comfortable interacting with artificial intelligence than he is with actual human beings. As a result he finds it difficult to express simple emotions to not only his ex-wife, but also a potential love interest (Olivia Wilde).
What is fascinating about the future world which Jonze depicts is that individuals are more content with inserting themselves into others’ love lives rather than cultivating their own. This is expertly conveyed in a sequence very reminiscent of Chasing Amy in which Samantha proposes bringing a surrogate, Isabelle (Portia Doubleday), into their relationship. It is riveting partly because of how deeply in love Isabelle is falling for both Theodore and Samantha just based on the stories she has heard. Similar to Theodore’s day job, in which he serves as a surrogate love letter writer for others, Jonze uses Isabelle to tap into people’s inability to make true romantic connections in modern society.
In Her love is both the ultimate goal and the biggest source of distress. Theodore’s closest friend Amy (Amy Adams), a game designer with aspirations of being a documentary filmmaker, remarks that love is the only “socially acceptable insanity.” While the line is played for laughs, there is a lot of truth to her words. Going through the initial stages of a marital breakup herself, the one common thread in both Amy and Theodore’s respective marriages is the notion of love not being resistant to change. In both cases there is one person in the relationships not willing to see or accept the evolution of their partner. Despite being separated for almost a year, Theodore still tries to hold onto an image of Catherine that no longer exists. The same can be said for the way he holds onto his view of a more obedient version of Samantha. He struggles to identify with the evolving Samantha who no longer puts him at the centre of her world.
Her is a film that demands to be watched and savored. It is a commentary on the ways technology is hindering our ability to truly connect with other human beings. When Theodore final takes notice of the world around him, dust particles and all, we feel it as well. Jonze finds the perfect blend of humour and melancholy needed to make the film resonate. It is one of the best films you will see this year, and is destined to be a film that you will revisit for years to come.