A new idea often requires a new mode of presentation. Spike Jonze’s Her is an atypical romance film depicting an atypical romance. The setting may be futuristic, but the actions and emotions are entirely relevant to today. This film may be slow and quiet, but it has the power to sneak up on a viewer and get under their skin. Here is a piece that leaves one pondering the weighty questions that it raises long after the final credits have rolled.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely love letter writer struggling to move past his recent breakup and come to terms with his impending divorce. Sweet and sensitive, Theodore struggles to find somebody who truly understands him – until he meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a personalized operating system designed to learn and grow as it helps him through his daily life. As Samantha evolves, so does her relationship with Theodore, and it isn’t long before Theodore finds himself deeply in love with his “OS.”
Phoenix is simply mesmerizing as the complex Theodore, spending much of the film entirely alone onscreen and forced to act physically by himself as he speaks with Samantha’s disembodied voice. Not much occurs on the screen, forcing an audience to focus on the voices instead, as do the characters. It is rare that shots of a single person doing very little can be this engaging, and the film’s success is a testament to the immense talent of its lead actor. Johansson is also impressive, rising to the challenge of creating an emotional connection with Theodore – and an emotional response from the audience – with only the use of her voice. It is surprisingly easy for the viewer to fall in love with these characters and their unique relationship, even as we fear that it cannot last. In addition, sweeping cinematography reveals the beauty that can be found in a city landscape, and lovely, melancholy music perfectly accompanies many scenes.
Theodore may be a bit of an oddity, but he lives in an odd world. Although this film takes place in the future, the world that it presents is only slightly different from our own, remaining recognizable, and thus, relatable. The concept of this film intrigues, due in part to its imminent possibility today. If virtual pets with which children form bonds have already become popular, then how far are we from personalized operating systems with which we can form relationships? The reactions of several characters, such as Theodore’s boss and godchild, upon discovering the nature of his girlfriend are highly revealing. These individuals immediately accept the idea and take it in stride; one cannot help but wonder how they personally would react to such information, especially if it is a not far off reality. Her raises many such questions in regards to the nature of love and relationships that can easily be applied to the world today.
There is heartbreak emanating from every scene in Her. The gloomy scenes are sad, but so are the light and happy ones, as an audience expects that the relationship they have come to love cannot end well. Underneath its layers, however, this film reveals a tragic beauty within the world. There is happiness here, and one is left with the feeling that it is indeed possible to achieve it if one can only learn how to accept it. If this kind of strange love story can cause a viewer to feel and to think to this extent, then there must be something to say for film, and, indeed, for love. Her is unlike any film I have ever seen, and I feel like I have been improved for having watched it. You can’t say that very often.