Director Spike Jonze is never one to create with the confines of normality. His previous films Being John Malkovich, Adaptation. and Where the Wild Things are all took odd ideas and created wonderful environments to let the obscure narratives play out. His latest film Her, explores the interactions between humans and technology as well humans and themselves.
In the near future Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a hand-written letter creator is getting over a failed marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara). Shunning the majority of social interaction he is setup on blind date (Olivia Wilde) by his friend Amy (Amy Adams). After this fails to reap any benefits he finds solace in the new operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and the two strike up an unlikely relationship.
Like all good near-future science fiction films, Her has a tremendous sense of place. The world these characters inhabit is never showy in terms of technological advances, and much like in real life characters interact with the new in a functional and societal way. Everywhere that Theodore goes, people are muttering to their operating systems and making calls with their earpieces, almost never actually interacting with one another. It’s an interesting exploration into the future of technology that raises these interesting ideas without ever shoving it down the audience’s throat.
The idea that is truly focused on regards the nature of relationships. Whether it is socially acceptable to have a relationship with a sentient machine, or whether it is always underlined with a damaging personal issue that for some reason holds the person back from real interaction. Or whether real interaction is a myth and that any social exchange can form a worthwhile relationship. It’s an interesting and even-handed look at online dating by taking it through to its natural next step with human-machine relationships.
It is quite amazing that a simple voice could create such a well-realised character, but Johansson does an incredible job of giving life to the body-less Samantha. Even more incredible is the chemistry on display between her and Phoenix, who once again proves his acting range with a low-key performance that hides his a-list presence. The mark of a good performance is that you forget the actor playing the part from his previous roles and accept him wholly as his character, a feat that Phoenix achieves once again. His Theodore is just awkward enough with a sense of greater social skills were he placed in a less isolated environment.
The bubbling chemistry between Phoenix and Johansson underpins the whole story and when it reaches its natural conclusion there has been some dramatic and well-established character development for both. Her is a very subtle science fiction think-piece from director Spike Jonze, which raises questions for its audience to ponder and consider and like all the best films doesn’t too strongly make its point instead leaving it up to those watching to make up their own minds.