We live in a digital age, yet despite the onslaught of the constant increasing presence of technology in our lives, rarely do we consider how it’s changing our relationships with our friends, families and colleagues – let alone of emotional response to the technology we use. Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) aims to open up the debate on how we use and interact with technology, culminating in an adroit social commentary with a markedly different deployment of humour, charm (by the bucket-load) and restrained profundity. Washing away the all too stale taste of dystopian sci-fi, Her cleanses the palate by focusing on the love life of a recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (a quite brilliant Joaquin Phoenix).
The world in which Theodore lives is similar to our own; there are no flying cars, people aren’t popping pills instead of eating square meals, and nowhere is the dreaded threat of technology. The world is, instead, an eclectic modernist mash-up of van der Rohe and Bauhaus by way of Ikea (Jonze also consulted with New York design firm Sagmeister & Walsh to create the aesthetic of the film), full of saturated primary colours. Reeling from the break-up of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore spends his days working at a bespoke letter-writing outfit, a company that employs writers to create printed love letters. Working in a world where he is able to express emotions for others but incapable of coping with his recent emotional fallout, Theodore is wrapped in an emotional funk.
To shake off this malady, Theodore takes a gambit on installing a state of the art A.I. operating system that generates the perfect assistant – in this case, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Jonze now asks us to take a leap of faith and accept the idea of Theodore falling in love Samantha. On paper, this conceit seems ludicrous – like the concept of an office worker falling in love with a printer. Yet, handled delicately as Jonze does, the idea becomes something wonderful, something poetic. Her is a film that isn’t rooted in technology but in the highs, lows and fragility of human relationships. It almost becomes by the by that Samantha isn’t human; for all her charm, wit and tenderness, she might as well be.
Theodore doesn’t fall in love with the hand-held device he uses to talk to Samantha, nor the nifty little earbud he uses. He isn’t in love with the technology or even the concept of the technology; he is in love with her. This is nothing short of a masterstroke of storytelling, humbly navigating the tricky territory of deeply philosophical questions (What makes us human? What is love? What does it mean to be in love?) and dusting off the well-worn, clunking tropes of the sci-fi genre to create a heartfelt billet-doux. Bolstered by a wistful score, Jonze’s romance reminds us that whilst technology allows us to connect to each other in a surfeit of ways, we still feel a sense of longing until we find that special someone.