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Spike Jonze returns with a fascinating vision of our future, not far from our own, where because of the advancement of technology ‘real’ relationships have all but disappeared
The endlessly fascinating Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lyrical and lonesome writer in the sun-kissed near future of Spike Jonze’s rom.com, Her. He lives in an imaginary pan-Asian city; a place made up of shimmering skyscrapers, beautiful complementary colour palettes, idyllic open spaces, and slick Apple-esque technology. It’s a reliance on and notional rejection of that tech that provides Theodore with his position as a scribe. In a world inhabited by a nostalgic, but interaction-phobic, public, he fills the idiosyncratic position of a professional writer of handwritten letters. Reaching for a more human and tactile past, people commission personal notes from the company that he works for. They allow the customer to keep in touch with loved ones without needing to actually write to them, or even find the words themselves. Instead, this is outsourced to Theodore, who in turn dictates delicate and sensitive correspondence to his gleaming computer and subsequently prints the letter in pristine freehand script.
It’s a disarmingly simple and effective evocation of a unique vision of the future that sees our race grasping for the antiquated past even as our reliance on technology increases exponentially. The marriage, and inherent conflicts, between man and machine are what provide the science fiction substance to Jonze’s exceptionally wrought love story. It all starts when Theodore stumbles across an announcement about a new Operating System. The monotony of his current OS (akin to a more advanced version of Apple’s Siri) seems to pale into insignificance with the promise of one that evolves on its own and forms a unique personality. Her deftly merges the awe and excitement of outstanding technological innovation with the same emotions found in the traditional meet-cute as Theo powers up his machine only to come voice to voice with his sultry new OS, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).
Initially she plays the role of an electronic personal assistant, screening Theodore’s calls, reminding him of appointments, and managing his emails. Programmed with an innate inquisitiveness, however, she slowly builds up a rapport with her user that blossoms further into friendship. This is a future, not a giant leap from our own, in which an individual’s technology is all synced to their OS – this means that Samantha can go anywhere with Theodore, and can experience his life almost fully. One only has to think of Google glass to see how close this is to our present.
Theodore’s growing infatuation with Samantha unfurls like a mirror held up to humanity, as all Sci-Fi should. This is not a man that has never been able to form human relationships; his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) and his best friend (a fantastic Amy Adams) are testament to this. Through the course of the film, however, he comes to further depend on his technology to the extent that he utilises it for friendship, and ultimately love, taking our societal pre-occupation with our electronic devices to a playful and humourous conclusion. There is a scene in which Theodore walks around the city in glorious sunshine chatting away happily with Samantha in his ear, everyone around him doing the same. It is at once lovely and sad. It is at once fictional and all too familiar.
It should be noted that the performances in the film are uniformly excellent. Scarlett Johansson does a very impressive job of voicing Samantha; vivacious, curious, caring, and all whilst remaining bodiless. The support from the likes of Adams, and to a lesser extent Mara and Olivia Wilde also help to give a real texture to Jonze’s world. This is ultimately Phoenix’s show, however, and he is once again on imperious form. The quiet, lovelorn Theodore in his high-waisted trousers and pastel shirt is worlds away from the crooked rage of The Master’s Freddie Quell, but it would be hard to find an actor more capable of playing broken men with such virtuosity and range. Here he is understated, and exquisite with it.
What could just have been a neat but conventional romantic yarn spun in a futuristic setting is revealed as a far more considered work with the decisions taken over its denouement. Jonze has already been honoured for the script on multiple occasions, and it is easy to understand why. Once again keenly toying with the parallels between our romantic and technological infatuations, he infuses the oft seen Sci-Fi trope of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence with the heartbreaking situation of a person outgrowing their partner. It tinges the film with an undeniable sadness that never overshadows the love story but deftly probes the potential pitfalls of our technological obsessions. It’s a delight to watch and when the credits roll on Her, you feel a lot like at the end of a wonderful relationship that you always knew couldn’t last forever; distraught at the loss, but eternally glad of the time you shared.