Imagine a world where society is so infatuated with advanced technology that computers begin to take on human traits. Such is the backdrop for Spike Jonze’s new film “Her.” Set in future Los Angeles, “Her” is a sci-fi romantic comedy with an original idea and unique vision.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombley, a man going through a divorce and working at a personal letter writing company. Twombley purchases a new, advanced operating system, chooses the female voice option and meets “Samantha,” voiced by Scarlett Johansson. As Samantha develops emotionally, they begin to fall for each other until they are hopelessly in love.
In the beginning, Theodore often experiences dreamy, ethereal flashbacks to married life and emotional moments with his ex-wife Katherine, played by Rooney Mara. As his love for Samantha grows, the differences between personalities of the two women become increasingly apparent in a confusing way for Theodore.
Samantha is not just an operating system; she is witty, funny and highly insightful. She is capable of sensing and feeling emotions in addition to her operating system intelligence. She draws Theodore out of his solitary, melancholy lifestyle into a new life full of wonder and energy.
The human-operating system relationship plays with the idea of importance and necessity of physical sex in love and relationships. The few scenes where voiced sex and fantasies are included feel intimate, as though the audience is let in on a very private moment. It gets to the point where it is almost uncomfortable to watch, but is completely necessary and gives the audience insight into the growing intimacy of the couple.
The acting by Joaquin Phoenix stands out as incredibly genuine, believable and sincere. He displays a wide range of emotions throughout the film ranging from wild, senseless happiness to reserved hesitance in which the audience glimpses his authentic vulnerability. Scarlett Johansson, though never seen, conveys seemingly effortless joy and wonder in addition to her overall aura of mystery that brings the operating system to life and endlessly intrigues audiences.
It is greatly in contrast with Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” because the story was told mostly visually while dialogue plays a very important part in “Her.” This is not to say that “Her” was any less visually interesting. The tranquil scenery of Theodore’s city ventures allows viewers to see the incredible beauty surrounding the characters. From gorgeous skyline panning to stunning beach scenes, the cinematography only becomes increasingly exquisite.
The film is also getting some attention for its original music. The somber score by Arcade Fire amplifies the emotional tone and visual beauty of the film and is complimented by a duet by Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix entitled simply “The Moon Song.” Both the score and duet have recently been nominated for academy awards, in addition to receiving Oscar nods for best production design, best original screenplay and best picture.
Initially the sci-fi romance plot might not seem appealing but writer, director Spike Jonze created real, genuine characters that draw viewers into a soulful, heartfelt romance. “Her” may not necessarily be an accurate projection of the future but unquestionably offers up poignant wisdom about modern relationships, even describing love as “a form of socially acceptable insanity.”
*Published in Roosevelt University Torch.