Her: a digital love story


The opening shots of Her show Joaquin Phoenix declaring his love to someone unknown, and it is quickly revealed that his character works for a futuristic company that sells “handwritten” letters. This makes sense. In today’s world where almost every form of communication has moved into the digital and “nobody” writes letters, how surprising would it be if letter writing becomes a Hallmark-like service in the future? Writer/director Spike Jonze is quick to set up his strong vision of the future, and it’s one that continues to build over the course of the movie.

Struggling with a divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly is a very depressed man. He reveals that there once was a time where he loved to write, but in his own crushed state, writing love letters is only a job. More than anything, he’s incredibly lonely. Then he sees OS 1, an operating system that is artificially intelligent and fits the needs of its individual users. His OS names itself Samantha, and with the voice of Scarlett Johansson, it shows that it is far above our present operating systems as well as the very similar one that Theodore had previously. Samantha is smarter than any human and also has human emotions, and as Theodore and Samantha grow, they become romantically involved with each other.

Before seeing the movie, it’s easy to have an opinion on the premise. Even though we are a more technology reliant population than has ever existed, it’s hard for us to imagine technology so advanced that we could enter into a relationship with it which could rival relations with actual humans. Jonze knows this too, and Theodore has the same doubts about Samantha that you or I would if we were in his place.

Throughout the course of the film, Theodore learns about love through Samantha. Their relationship is an interesting one to watch. Though their relationship unfolds in a fairly typical way, being able to see Samantha experience a relationship at the same time that she is experiencing the emotions that it creates is a fascinating twist. It’s bizarre to imagine having a partner experience love or sadness for the very first time and experience it because of you, and that’s exactly what this film is able to portray.

The film is constantly asking different questions. Typically the way you will feel is quite parallel to the way that Theodore feels. It would be a shame to reveal some of the questions here, though by the end it’s very obvious that Jonze is asking some tough questions about difficult relationships that most filmmakers are far too scared to ever ask. The journey is a fantastic one to make, and you’ll be thankful that you made it.

The journey that you go on with Theodore is a beautiful and heartfelt one, but the beauty does not stop there. Cinematically, Her is one of the most gorgeously shot films you will see. The color palette is absolutely breathtaking and each shot is perfect.

Of course, Her would not work if it weren’t for the performances from the two leads. Joaquin Phoenix is as brilliant on screen as Scarlett Johansson is off. It’s almost unbelievably impressive once you really start to think about how they would have had to make the movie. Either Phoenix or Johansson would have had to turn in their performance without being able to play off of the performance of the other. It was a task that really shouldn’t have worked, but it completely did.

Her is set in the not too distant future, so the science fiction wasn’t too out there. It tried hard to blend all the futuristic elements into the world without drawing attention to them, and it worked well. For every noticeable futuristic video game that is included, there’s also the almost hidden fact that cell phones seemingly never lose battery and that Los Angeles has a good public transportation system. Everything seems to blend into Jonze’s world seamlessly.

When the credits roll, you will have been taken on a journey. It’s unlikely that you’ll leave the theater with the same feelings of what technology can or cannot do. You’re also likely to have a different view on what love is and how it is shared. Her is a rare film that is equally moving and intelligent, and it’s easily one of the best films in the last few years.