Film Review: ‘Her’

Dystopian visions of the future are ten a penny in today’s cynical age, but optimistic utopias are a far rarer occurrence. Enter Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), the director’s long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are and a genuinely open-minded exploration of the potential avenues for symbiosis between humanity and technology. Pushing the evolution of computer/smartphone operating systems to the next stage, a lonely creative falls for his OS following several failed relationships with his own species. However, what isn’t expected is the level of acceptance he receives from his circle of human friends.

In the not too distant future, Theodore Twombly (Jonze’s latest sublimely named protagonist, played by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix), an isolated writer at a personal letter-writing company, purchases a newly developed operating system designed to meet the specific user’s every needs. To Theodore’s great surprise, a romantic relationship gradually develops between himself and his female operating system, who refers to herself as Samantha (sensually voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Their relations are entirely platonic at first, with Samantha proving herself adept at organising Theodore’s cluttered inbox. However, as she delves deeper into his personal life a more complex connection emerges.

Beginning life as a quirky rom-com (albeit with a twist) before turning into something far greater and more profound, Jonze’s Her puts forward a convincing and compelling defence of technology’s growing dominion over our everyday lives. Why shouldn’t the lonely be comforted by artificial intelligence(s)? For Theodore at least, Samantha arrives at a stage in his life when falling in love with another human being – following the breakdown of his marriage with former wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) – appeared unlikely, offering him the sort of unwavering care and attention his shattered self esteem so dearly craves. And yet, as with so many cinematic AI constructs over the years, Samantha begins to outgrow here mortal counterpart, longing to test the boundaries of her own digital existence.

Phoenix and Johansson share a remarkable on screen chemistry, especially given the latter’s role as a disembodied personality – their every interaction charged with affection and a genuinely enlivened interest in one another. Theodore’s initial reluctance towards telling those around him about Samantha proves unfounded, especially when it comes to best friend Amy (Amy Adams), who is herself seeing a female OS left behind by her recently divorced husband (Matt Letscher). An incredibly warm and – dare we say it – unique snapshot of a brave and inviting new world, Jonze’s Her is a perfect antidote to all those chilling but now familiar Orwellian scare stories ingrained into the sci-fi psyche.

Daniel Green

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