Released: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: Spike Jonze. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 126 min.
Love is sometimes a strange, but such a beautiful thing. Oftentimes, one can’t help who they love romantically – the heart wants what the heart wants, as some say. In “Labor Day,” Kate Winslet’s Adele falls in love with a fugitive (weird), and in “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore falls in love with his operating system (even weirder). Yet, the dynamic in the sappy former has been done to death; the dynamic in “Her” is quirky and charming, and totally new. This film follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer in Los Angeles recovering from a recent divorce with his ex Catherine (Rooney Mara). Theo develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that is designed to meet his every need.
Theo’s operating system is named Samantha and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. In the ad for the OS1, it is said to not only be an operating system, but a consciousness. She’s an artificial intelligence with a programmed personality that is very charming. Since Samantha in new to the world, she has a refreshing perspective about everything – and she gets excited about all the little things, and she wants to know what it’s like to be alive. Sam may not have a face, but Johansson portrays emotions well with her compassionate voice, and the wonder that is apparent through it. I think the really crappy thing for Phoenix is that he actually doesn’t get to have a sex scene with, you know, Johansson’s body. If I were Phoenix, that’d piss me off to no end!
I think Jonze thinks of a creative dynamic to solve that whole no body problem. At least he doesn’t think of a similar way to “Movie 43,” where there’s a human version of an iPod called the iBabe, that’s a hot girl who plays music. And when a lonely guy buys it, and it’s a realistic hot girl, you know how that’s going to turn out. Let’s count our blessings this isn’t a story about that, and by the way all, I’m sorry to remind you of that bad film. Speaking of lonely guys, Samantha is a great thing for Theo because it seems to me the OS1 is a great way to reduce loneliness because these artificial intelligences are funny and they have charming personalities (that are based on personalities of programmers), so it seems like incredible company. Theo has also been in a bit of a dark place lately after his divorce (he is skeptical to sign his divorce papers because it further symbolizes a chapter in one’s life closing), and he hasn’t been having enough fun lately. He’s an everyday character because of his fear for real emotions, and he’s relateable – and he’s embodied so well by Joaquin Phoenix, and it’s a real joy to watch him experience new things with the help of Sam. He’s such a likeable character that you really root for him, even though he’s in a bittersweet romance that is way worse than trying out long distance.
It’s an uplifting story that love can bring someone out of their shell, and since he writes letters for couples; he gets way more into in his work when he is in a relationship. One would think such a likeable guy deserves love. The characters help the quirky film always entertain and often sadden, making it a great blend of romance, science fiction, drama and comedy. It’s a science fiction because of the artificial intelligences and futuristic technology and it’s a comedy because it makes the audience laugh a lot with its unique sense of humour. I think it has a great blend of drama and comedy, often blending the two genres (and adding in some intensity in scenes) and one might not expect the chemistry between a man and an operating system to be so great, but it truly is. Spike Jonze is the right person to make such a unique story come to life, because it breathes new life into all of these genres.
Another thing that helps bring this story to life is the incredible score that rouses emotions, a primary objective of film’s scores; and there’s some great music, here, too. It’s also brought to life by great editing, beautiful settings and cinematography. I think some people might be offput by this film’s great premise, because, admittedly, it is a bit strange – but myself, I was hooked when I first heard of it. It’s just so brilliantly original. One other character I haven’t mentioned is Amy Adams’ character, Theo’s best friend – a documentary filmmaker named Amy.
In one scene she is discussing an idea for a documentary about her mother simply sleeping, posing the idea that people are at their most free when they are dreaming (meaning we don’t have to deal with the real world, and we take a break from it); Samantha also says a line where she wonders if her personality is just programming or if her feelings are real, which made me think of humans. Sometimes I wonder if people are legitimately feeling their emotions, faking them, or like they’re just on auto-pilot and going through the motions of feelings, if you see what I mean by that. It seems to me that technology is diminishing some of our social capabilities in that perspective, and technology is advancing so much that we don’t have to deal with human interaction as much as we used to; which contributes to Theo’s fear of real emotions. These two quotes are directly linked together, and Jonze uses them to make a smart and honest assesment of humans.
One other hidden meaning that I picked up on was that this whole human-operating system relationship might be a whole new sort-of sexuality (for a lack of a better word) that gets talked about around the office in hushed tones. Is this a new thing society will have to accept in the future, if this sort-of relationship ever comes about? Falling in love is said to be, by Adams’ character, a socially acceptable insanity; but could this be accepted by most? All I know, this premise makes for a thought-provoking, original and special film.