A teacher of mine once said – while taking away a phone from a student who was texting in class – “You guys act like I am cutting off your arms, I mean seriously guys, someday soon we are going to have rehab for people who can’t let go of their technology and some of you will probably be there.” This pretty much sums up the direction we are heading.
Spike Jonze returns to full length films after 4 years of doing shorts and music related documentaries. His unique sense of placing the weird and the obscure right out there yet still acting as if it is commonplace is apparent in the film. Technology is everywhere in the film, everybody has a little earpiece that acts as a phone in the apparently near future, something that isn’t entirely far-off from what we have now. So when the new OS 1 is released (imagine Siri on steroids) just like any sort of release of technology in our world, it has become somewhat expected. Theodore is a lonely and depressed letter writer for a company which takes information given by someone and transforms it into a personalized message for the person they are sending it to. Theodore excels at his work, but he is consistently reminded by those around him that he is devoid of any sort of emotionality.
Joaquin Phoenix, in easily one of his best performances, is incredible. His separation from his wife, Catherine, played by Rooney Mara, has taken a toll on his life even though it happened a year prior. He has not been able to move on, and his somber and heartbreaking appearance makes it all the much more painful for us when he reminisces on the times he shared with his ex. On a whim, he buys the OS 1 and is introduced to Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, his own personal artificial intelligence who is designed to do all of his organizing and whatnot. Her voice is calming and alluring, we almost want to have her somehow materialize and be real; she becomes such a presence that she feels real, that she is hiding around the corner or just simply not in frame. But, just like how our technology is advancing, she begins to take a life of her own.
Thus begins his relationship with a computer, which like Jonze is so good at, doesn’t appear all too bizarre. Samantha is more or less the personification of what technology is to us in our world. We all love our technology, we all hate our technology, we race to plug it in when it’s low on battery, we have a panic attack if we lose it or it doesn’t work, we sometimes get so sick of it we just have to push it away. It is a love-hate relationship. Technology has become so necessary to daily life and just like we have become so reliant on technology, Theodore becomes inseparable from Samantha. It is such a challenge to act like you are actually speaking to someone who isn’t there, surely Scarlett was somewhere on set, but Joaquin takes the challenge head on, delivering a great performance when it is mainly just him talking to a voice that is literally inside his head. He falls head over heels for her. She is so new to the world that she wants nothing more than to see, well, everything. Her desire to learn gets Theodore out of his shell as he begins to open up and learn to love life again. Their relationship feels real; we follow the jealousy of the other talking to different people, the misery of fighting with the other person, and the happiness when things are OK.
The movie itself is beautiful; it is filled with beautiful set designs and gorgeous cinematography. The amount of detail put into the entire tech-pieces in the film is astonishing, it leaves one to want the computers they are using and the video games they are playing.
The movie is also about coming out of our shells that we have surrounded ourselves with, in a world so full of technology and artificial conversations through Facebook and texting, we forget that the real interactions are the most powerful; the touch of a lover, the high five of two friends, holding hands in the park. This movie shows us that through technology we lose that level of connection; sure we can talk from hundreds of miles away through the phone, but it isn’t the same and never will be.
The supporting cast isn’t entirely present, but it is strong nonetheless. Chris Pratt plays Theodore’s receptionist friend, but he is the least seen of the supporting cast. He is pretty funny, never judging Theodore for his romance with Samantha. It is Amy Adams who is much stronger. She is Theodore’s friend from college, and they rely on each other for support. She is sometimes the heart of the film, reminding us that love is more of a “socially accepted form of insanity” and that it’s all about finding joy in the time we spend here on earth.
Her is by far one of the best movies of the year. The acting is superb and the story is unique and daring. Most directors who would try their hand at the idea of a romance with an artificial intelligence may find themselves making it funnier than poignant, more of a cheap gimmick than a message about how our world is and the way our society is heading. It is a tricky subject, but Spike Jonze handles it with ease, never making it seem like the technology is the more important part of the film, focusing on the relationships, making it his best movie in over ten years, and also making a film that speaks so much truth about our world today, where we forget that the ideas in the movie are not so far from fiction than we might think.