“Best Original Screenplay” is the first phrase that came to my mind after watching Spike Jonze’s Her. The film is smart, sincere, and filled with incredibly real emotions; to put it simply, the best. Set in a futuristic city, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer struggling to get over a divorce and coming to terms with what he wants in life, forms a close personal bond with Samantha, a super-intelligent operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and falls in love with it. He then explores what it means to be in a relationship and to grow with a virtual being. The premise may sound ridiculous, but Her may just be the most amazing film you will see this year.
Her is interesting due to its ability to engage us with some of the most thought-provoking questions challenging humanity today, without using images. What does it mean to be in a relationship? Can emotions come from virtual reality? Is engagement with technology gradually isolating us from society? At no point in the film are the above questions explicitly stated, but the audience recognizes them, because the audience is also curious. Theodore’s job is composing love letters for couples, and in one scene, a co-worker compliments him on his sensitivity in writing from the perspective of a girlfriend, saying, “I would be stoked to get a letter like that.” This moment is when the audience sees that sensitivity can trigger emotions regardless of the gender of its source.
Making a relationship with a computer sound interesting is not easy – an image of a nerd sitting in a darkly lit room comes to mind – but Jonze accomplishes this feat masterfully. Samantha and Theodore’s dialogue is sincere and charming, and their lovemaking, which is done with voices over a black screen, is surprisingly erotic. In fact, most of the movie isn’t about moving images, but about voices in Theodore’s mind. If we were to watch Her on DVD and pause at a randomly selected moment, chances are that Theodore’s face would be covering seventy percent of the screen. What drives the movie and our thoughts forward is the narration.
Her feels real to us because, although it has elements of fantasy, it is a tragic story. Theodore has a failed marriage, and the operating system, which does not have a physical body, is never able to help him understand what went wrong between his wife and him. Eventually, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship too comes to an end. Using artificial intelligence to solve human problems is probably an idea that is doomed from the get-go, but Her delivers a rather pessimistic look at human relationships, making any relationship feel like a ticking time-bomb. Some viewers may disagree strongly with this message. However, the film must be applauded for the ability to elicit strong responses from the audience.
Like Theodore, we come to terms with our emotions only after the story is over, and together with Theodore, we fall in love with Samantha. We root for them throughout the film, because it’s a relationship that is not supposed to work: the forbidden fruit. Her deserves to win the Best Original Screenplay academy award because it challenges our notion of love, forces us to fall in love, and lets us sympathize with another person’s love, things that most other films can only hope to accomplish.