Her was the movie that spoke to me the most in 2013, and the film that I will passionately argue was the best of last year. At its core, it’s an unique love story starting with a lonely man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who decides to install an artificially intelligent operating system on his computer. Ultimately, Theodore falls in love with this artificial being, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). However, Her is a much deeper film than just the love story that it tells. Perhaps the most powerful component of this film is not spoken or on screen at all.
Theodore writes personalized and tender letters for other individuals through beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, and while he seems to be so intimate in his letters for others – he is isolated and closed off in his own personal life. Struggling to cope with a divorce he didn’t want from his once love Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore shuts himself off from his close friends and spends his evenings playing a rather amusing (for the audience) video game.
Convinced by an ad to purchase a new artificially intelligent OS, he works through the set-up for what becomes Samantha. Samantha started out as a pretty handy personal assistant. However, after a date gone wrong with a beautiful girl (Olivia Wilde), Theodore finds himself opening up and bearing his soul to Samantha.
“Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever going to feel, and from here on out I’m not going to feel anything new, just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” Theodore reveals to Samantha. Such a powerful thought which promptly leads us into an evolving relationship between Theodore and Samantha.
What I truly found interesting about Her is even though it’s set many years from now and dealing with a technology that is currently in its infantry at best – the evolution of relationships is still ultimately the same. Even with a technology that is supposed to grow with us and adapt to our likes and dislikes, the normal phases of a relationship are still present. There’s the romantic honeymoon phase where everything is shiny and new, and then there comes the stage where one or both partners pull away – the excitement of the new relationship has worn off. Either the couple decides to separate or they become even stronger and enter into a stage of stability. Next comes the stage of commitment. What’s interesting here is most people get married when in that first romantic honeymoon phase – before they’re actually ready to commit. That’s why most divorces happen in the 3 to 4 year period of a relationship.
However, we’re not dealing with a normal relationship between Theodore and Samantha. She’s not human, yet she has been programmed to grow and mature as if she is. She too has needs – sexual needs and intellectual needs. She is growing faster than Theodore, and problems soon begin to arise.
Joaquin Phoenix is amazingly authentic in this role. Spending a large portion of the film interacting with just Samantha’s voice couldn’t have been an easy task. No fellow actors to act off of and to get lost in scenes with. Yet, Phoenix beautifully bares the soul of a character who is afraid to do just that – bare his soul. His performance is truly a revelation.
Then there is Scarlett Johansson who manages to make us fall in love with her simply by enchanting us with Samantha’s voice and her eagerness to see and experience life. Samantha encompasses the freshness of a new relationship, and we become as emotionally attached to her as Theodore does.
Her writer and director Spike Jonze didn’t just have a challenge with creating these characters and telling this story in such an honest and identifiable way – he was also tasked with having to create a believable world set many years in the future. An evolved but vintage fashion style, easy to use public transit in Los Angeles, and technology interactions and interfaces that were modern and sleek helped audiences not only buy into the environment – but ultimately get sucked into the world that Jonze had created.
Rarely do I see films that stick with me in the way that Her has. As more time has passed since the Atlanta screening, I’ve found that I’ve somehow fallen more in love with this film. Spike Jonze managed to create something truly magical, crazy, and wonderful. A story about the challenge of moving on from a relationship that seemed destined to last for eternity and the desire for human connection but the fear of opening one’s self up. Amy Adams’ character in Her says it the best, “I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a kind of socially acceptable insanity.”
Review By: Emma Loggins