Taking place in a peaceful future setting (likely 30-50 years from now), Her shows a society and culture even further embedded with technology. Cell phones are a thing of the past, eschewed in favor of small earpieces (a la the alternate universe version of phones depicted in FOX's tv showFringe) that reads your emails, calls your contacts, and generally runs most of the "errands" of your life all with a simple voice command. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix playing the awkwardly named Theodore Twombly, a recently martially separated and rather lonely individual that dictates intimate and well written love letters for strangers. The catch being that he's paid by the "sender"to compose and write it himself, while the person receiving it is none the wiser. Spending his day quietly muttering into a computer microphone and then quietly muttering commands to his ear piece on the train ride home, Theodore's life seems to serve as a template of everyone around him.
The people of the world of Her all mutter quietly into their earpieces, in fact it's almost as if the director made it a point to rarely show two people interacting with one another directly. Theodore's loneliness isn't his own, everyone seems to be drowning in it. This rather noticeable quirk in the film strongly reminded me of the famous refrain from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink". Indeed, it appears the closest real interaction people seem to have comes from the earpieces, why meet with someone when they are just a voice command away? This leads up to a rather humorous scene involving the main character and a sex chatroom of sorts, featuring cameo voice work by both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. However, this isn't to say that interaction isn't common: through the use of numerous flashbacks, it's clear how close Theodore was to his soon to be ex-wife. Enter Samantha. The film eventually finds Theodore in an electronics store, and through a rather clever bit of exposition he listens to a targeted advertisement (similar the eye scanner technology used in Spielberg's Minority Report) tell him about a new computer Operating System featuring the first true Artificial Intelligence.
Perhaps the most entertaining scene occurs during the install process of the newly purchased OS. When asked about his relationship with his mother, Theodore goes into a long rambling and non-committal statement that the computer more or less cuts off with a curt "Thank you". After the setup is complete we are introduced to Samantha. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson (in what is arguably one of her best roles, despite never appearing on screen), Samantha exhibits all the traits and quirks of a person. Not only that, but she adapts and reacts to the electronic "world" around her: Which at this point in theorized time could more or less be equated to the real one given the amount of reliance humanity is depicted as having toward archived and readily available data. From here, the development of the relationship between Theodore and Samantha is handled both charmingly and realistically. After all, if Samantha truly IS a person, which the film very clearly shows- why wouldn't or couldn't a "normal" relationship develop and progress the same way as any other?
Of course, this doesn't get you past the limitation of Theodore actually having a physical body whereas Samantha is a disconnected and abstract voice. How and where the relationship ends up, is definitely worth the investment of your time and features a rather moving and heartfelt conclusion. The story itself is only strengthened by the talent shown with its cinematography. Often lingering on the display of Samantha's name on the future equivalent of an iPad during her and Theodore's long conversations, or languidly shifting through crowds of people serving as islands unto themselves, or then wildly swinging around a restaurant early in the movie with the main character on a rather disastrous first date after having a few too many drinks: this is a type of camera work connected with the emotion of the scene. This is something that can easily be blown out of proportion, think the fast cuts of the Bourne trilogy or the frenetic shots of Michael Bay's latest humdrum action film, but Her keeps it up with style and truly adds to the overall look and feel of the film in a very positive way.
The movie of course isn't without some weakness. Featuring a nearly pointless supporting role by Amy Adams, who is cast as the purposely quirky friend used the spout some pretty groan inducing lines (better seen in a dime a dozen rom-com or chick flick), we really didn't need her thoughts on the situation Theodore finds himself in (or that hair). Despite this lone blight, Her is a surprisingly engaging film that will find you truly invested in the relationship between a man and an artificial intelligence. With that I'll leave you to ponder: what makes you, you?
... spaces between the words are almost infinite...
- A contemplative and beautifully shot film that resonates with strong emotions, Her not only captures the trials and tribulations of a relationship but appeals to our fascination with where our future may be headed.
- The film cleverly captures what loneliness can mean when you're surrounded by an ocean of people without being in your face about it. In this universe, being a person unto yourself is merely an accepted fact.
- The film isn't all drama and wisely mixes in some pretty entertaining and genuinely funny moments using not only the main character's awkwardness but the way society is depicted in general.
- Theodore and Samantha's relationship feels very real and nuanced and you easily find yourself invested in where these two will go. This of course is strengthened by the great writing and fantastic acting by both Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.
It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity...
- Amy Adams delivers a rather grating performance as a friend and neighbor of the main character that adds very little to the story.
- Those who disliked Being John Malkovitch, or the even more "out there" Adaptation starring Nicholas Cage, may have some issues with the quirkiness that is inherent in films by Spike Jonze.
Verdict: Her is a thought provoking film hidden within the confines of a non-traditional romantic comedy. Vaguely reminiscent of a variety of films from Minority Report (as far as the setting is concerned) to last year's surprise hit Warm Bodies (sans zombies), this is a film that will have you invested in the lives of the main characters well after the credits roll.
Check out this hilarious send up of the movie featuring Jonah Hill and a surprise "Cera-gate".