Writer-director Spike Jonze is best known for his offbeat films “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” both of which deal with getting inside the heads of his characters. He does it again with his new film, “Her,” which takes place in the near future.
Her tells the story of Theodore (well-played by Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man in the final stages of divorce. In a world in which letter writing is a lost art, Theodore’s job is to write letters for others. Even though Theodore’s letters are full of emotion, he is devoid of feeling.
To deal with his emptiness, Theodore orders an Operating System (OS) for his computer. The OS is programmed with a woman’s voice to anticipate and respond to its owner’s needs. Theodore’s OS is named Samantha (beautifully voiced by Scarlett Johansson.) In his loneliness, Theodore finds that he spends more and more time talking to Samantha. Not only does he talk to her, Theodore takes Samantha with him to work and on outings to the beach. Samantha knows how to respond to Theodore’s emotional vulnerability to the point where he finds himself falling in love with a non-human voice.
Jonze does a clever job of exploring the aspects of love. Can one fall in love with a non-human voice? I’ve heard many jokes in recent years about the voice on GPS devices. I know I’ve talked back to mine! While this idea may seem farfetched, people currently have virtual relationships with others they have never met. Is it such a stretch to think someone could develop an emotional attachment with a voice programmed to respond to the operator’s needs? In a self-absorbed society, one would not have to be concerned about the needs of the other. So it can truly be all about me!
Theodore’s love for Samantha is not purely platonic. There’s an erotic nature to Theodore’s relationship with Samantha. Her voice can be very seductive. Samantha wonders what it would be like to have a body so that she could and Theodore could express their love. Be advised that Jonze’s depiction of the sensual aspect of their love gets a little kinky and was uncomfortable for me to watch.
“Her” is rather heady, with a lot of talk about the nature of love. Theodore’s friend Amy (Amy Adams) suggests that falling in love is insane! At times, the story gets bogged down with such dialogue. However, Jonze balances the headiness with a strong visual sense. “Her” is designed to look just different enough to suggest that it is not occurring in the present time. The beltless, high-waisted pants worn by men are a perfect example. Will this create a fashion statement?
“Her” has a lot of charm, and benefits from the performances of Phoenix and Johansson. There was even some talk of an Oscar nomination for Johansson, who never appears on camera! I’m grateful that, once more, Spike Jonze brings an original vision to the screen that caused me to ponder the nature of love in our post-modern world.
Tom Condon, OP