The movie “Her” asks for the ultimate in suspension of disbelief, as the audience is expected to buy into the reality of a romantic relationship between a man and an operating system.
Surprisingly, it works.
The believably futuristic tale crafted by Spike Jonze takes us into the lonely, love-starved world of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). Twombly is a letter writer for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a company that specializes in alleviating the pain and loneliness of others by writing thoughtful albeit fabricated letters the recipients believe to be from their real loved ones. In the midst of a divorce, Theodore finds himself alone in a world that seems to swallow him up as he searches for love. Already preoccupied and obsessed with technology, Theodore learns of a groundbreaking artificially intelligent operating system, OS1, software that can be customized to serve as the ultimate personal assistant based on what it learns about its owner.
Theodore’s OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) instinctively names herself Samantha. He is immediately enthralled by her seemingly limitless knowledge, wit and warmth, not to mention her efficiency and organizational skills. Disappointed by prior attempts at connecting with women online, Theodore clicks with Samantha as a friend and companion, despite her lack of a body. After more real life disappointment on the dating scene. A relationship blooms between man and OS, and it soon evolves into a passionate, plausible love.
The unlikely romance gives Theodore the resolve to get through the finalization his divorce process and experience the freedom to fully love again. Samantha also finds freedom as she experiences human emotions and affection for the first time. As their euphoric relationship grows more intense, it also grows more complicated, reflecting the pitfalls of real relationship while adding a few twists unique to the union between human and technology.
While the premise of the film may in theory seem far fetched, the realities of online dating and the real-life obsession most of us have with technology give “her” a remarkable realness that allow us to empathize with Theodore, and oddly enough, with Samantha as well. It causes us to root for their relationship and hope for her humanity. This is more than merely Catfish 2.0. This is love. Or is it?
Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Theodore Twombly, capturing the angst and affability of a divorced technophile with a crush on a computer. Phoenix makes us believe not only that it happened to him, but that perhaps it could happen to anyone. Scarlett Johansson, though she never appears on screen, is perfect as the voice of Samantha, adding credibility to what could otherwise come across as a farce if attempted by a lesser talent. She expertly conveys not only warmth and caring, but also that just-beneath-the-surface relationship craziness that we’ve all experienced at one point or another.
The biggest knock on “Her” is that it could have perhaps been a bit shorter. I found myself saying “I get it already” by the end, but that could be attributed to the sadness of the way things seemed to be unfolding as much as anything. Still, it was worth the journey. Both Phoenix and Johansson prove they are worthy of the Oscar buzz they’ve been generating. Amy Adams also gives a respectable turn as a very real woman who, get this, also falls for a male version of OS1.
All in all, I would recommend Her. It is an emotionally wrenching, thought provoking examination of the plausibility of love with someone who doesn’t really exist.
Or does she? After seeing “Her”, you might not be so sure.
Brian C Scott