Spike Jonze’s Her can best be described as an avant-garde fairytale of a man who falls in love with his hyper-aware, artificially intelligent operating system. We are already at a point where most people have more established relationships with their tech-savvy gadgetry than each other. Also, most operating systems and software nowadays promise to fulfil their consumer’s every need, and Her explores that concept to its extreme.
Despite its similarities to the movies I, Robot or even A.I: Artificial Intelligence, Her cannot be classified entirely as a science fiction film. It is, at its core, a whimsical love story, where the object of the awkward Theodore Twombly’s (Joaquin Phoenix) affection happens to be a virtual reality operating system: OS 1 (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), which calls itself Samantha.
Theodore works at a company called BeautifulhandwrittenLetters.com, where he composes sentimental letters for the inarticulate and the uncommunicative. His job is ironic, as according to his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), he doesn’t have the capacity to deal with human emotions. His long time friend and ex-girlfriend Amy (Amy Adams) may be the only relationship he thinks is worth keeping. When Amy mentions her growing friendship with her ex- husband’s OS, Theodore bravely admits to dating his. As the relationship revolves, conflict, jealousy and reality sinks in. It makes the viewer wonder whether human emotions will eventually be destroyed in a world transfixed with artificiality and pretence.
Surprisingly, the conclusion to this love story isn’t predictable and may leave you wondering if this situation may be plausible if, at all. While watching this odd but well-contrived romance, the audience may wonder if it’s better to emotionally invest in something that can talk back and be charming, rather than an inanimate object like a car or even a pet? Or can something that is artificially created lead to something real, and thus, meaningful? While none of these questions feel taboo, they are fundamentally unsettling, as is the fact that the viewer might find themselves rooting for the unconventional relationship which Theodore and Samantha share. The rapport between them is heartfelt and their discussions on love and loneliness are bound to strike a chord with a generation that can navigate any virtual situation but feels crippled in the face of real life emotion.
As for the cinematic technicalities within the movie: it is embedded with strong writing, the film is visually engaging in its retro look and the scenic cinematography is perfect which only adds to the melancholic and fragile experience. It is Jonze’s genius combined with Phoenix and Johansson’s phenomenal acting skills, which prevents the film from veering into absurd territory or inciting disbelief. Instead, it presents a touching love story that is acceptable as a reflection of the human conditions of loneliness and fulfilment and an imminent reality.
If you enjoyed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Lars and the Real Girl, this film is a must-see. It will also appeal to those who enjoy thought-provoking dystopian sci-fi narratives that deal with the human condition (Moon, Sunshine), or romances build around conversations between the leads, such as the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight).
Zinnia Bukhari heads the life and style desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @ZinniaBukhari
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 2nd, 2014.