Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Her is easily Spike Jonze’ most visually subtle film while at the same time his most complex story. At its heart the story is straightforward but the characters are complex and as otherworldly as the science fiction gimmick may seem the character dilemmas that play out are some of the most realistic put on film in many years. The story follows a socially awkward man struggling with interpersonal relationships while having the romantic heart of a poet. To say that he wants for a real committed relationship but lacks the skills to reach such a goal would be falling on Hollywood formula and for the most part this film dodges those tropes. The truth is that Theodore (Phoenix) doesn’t know what he wants completely. He does want intimacy and a connection but he fears commitment, partially due to the epic failure of his last relationship. It’s easy to surmise that the failure of his last relationship could have partially been due to his fear of real commitment. Theodore is a complex character. He’s as human a character as has ever been rendered on screen.
Theodore rambles through the daily grind that has become his life which mostly consists of work, videogames, and anonymous internet chat. His life changes when he discovers a new operating system that appears to not only be a part of his computer but also of his mobile device, and really any other electronic device he owns. The OS is a learning operating system. It learns everything about the person that owns it via emails and any other digital interactions the person may have. The operating system, which names itself Samantha, also learns via connections to other OS’s and just research on its own what it believes being alive is. Samantha is sentient and as much as possible learns to have feelings. Soon Theodore and Samantha strike up a relationship, a real loving one.
The movie follows their struggles to be together, the struggle of not being truly physically connected, of being accepted by others, and in a way living a relationship of distance. Through Jonze’ hands off directing approach and Phoenix’s nuanced performance the story unfolds as organically as any relationship would, friends, to lovers, to a committed relationship. The relationship is peppered with tenderness, humor, and sorrow just like any real relationship would be. Scarlet Johansson also delivers one of her best performances despite never being seen on screen since she plays the voice of Samantha.
Jonze brings us a unique take on love and what it means to be connected with this film and it’s heartbreaking in the most beautiful of ways. In a world filled with formulaic romantic comedy and melodramatic romance Her is truly refreshing and easily one of the most special films of the year. The big question I asked myself after stepping out of the theater is would I have still liked the film without the science fiction element because it would most definitely be out of my wheelhouse. The answer would be a big yes. While many of the questions of what it means to feel, and to love would go away with the loss of the science fiction element the complexity and the realness of the characters would still be there and that alone makes this movie worth seeing.