Letter writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) hasn’t been particularly lucky in love since his wife left him. However, after meeting and hitting it off with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), it seems things are looking up. The only thing is Samantha is a computer operating system.
The genius of Spike Jonze’s Her is that it takes a concept that should feel completely alien and beyond any realm of possibility and makes it feel totally normal. We don’t know when it’s set or even where it’s set, and yet we buy into it immediately as if their world is our own.
Jonze has superbly melded a science fiction future with the ubiquitous social and political trappings of the present, which succeeds in giving us a doorway into Theodore’s world, his hopes & dreams and, significantly, his failings.
As Theodore gets the train to work, he and his fellow commuters are absorbed in their technology, be it a mobile phone or their very own OS. This might be a vision of the future, but is that really any different from where we’re at today? There’s little to no communication between human beings; Theodore’s job involves writing letters on behalf of people who can’t express themselves and there are very few genuine and happy human relationships in the film.
This laces the film with a sense of melancholia and loneliness, mirroring Theodore’s own feelings. That is until Samantha turns up. Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied Samantha may not be a real person, but to Theodore she’s perfect. The two share intimate conversations and you get a genuine sense of their relationship growing, regardless of Samantha not having a physical presence. Even when the two are ‘intimate’ with each other, it feels more like a triumph than anything seedy or sordid.
Some are accepting of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship, whilst some are less so. This immediately brings to mind the idea of forbidden love, mixed-race relationships and other similar themes. Is their relationship wrong or weird? Does it really matter?
What’s clear is that they seemingly make each other happy, and that comes across wonderfully in the performances of the two leads. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is perfectly awkward and understated, and he manages to encapsulate the excitement and nervousness of a new relationship, the insecurities that come with it and the feelings when it’s perhaps not going so well. His performance is further enhanced by Jonze’s direction. The abundance of long takes and close-ups allow the minutiae of his personality to seep out and build a more believable character.
Scarlett Johansson has the peculiar task of playing a disembodied voice, yet brings so much life to the character that you never doubt she’s any less real than the other characters in the film. Johansson and Phoenix are totally believable as a couple, and considering only one of them has physical form, that’s quite an achievement.
The only real misstep the film takes, for me, is in its ending. It feels slightly curtailed and abrupt, which one could argue is a metaphor in itself, but it also stretches the realms of possibility and believability that little too far. It did little to hamper enjoyment of the film, but it did feel like the filmmakers were unsure of how to bring it to an end.
Her is the kind of film that doesn’t come around all that often. It’s genuinely heartfelt, looks stunning, and is an intriguing examination into human interaction and our evolving relationship with technology. Above all, it feels fresh and original, and that’s always something that should be celebrated.
- Genuinely heartfelt and believable
- Great performance from Joaquin Phoenix
- Amazing voice work from Scarlett Johansson
- Stunning cinematography
- Ending stretches the realms of possibility slightly too far