Technology is evolving more rapidly than anyone could have ever predicted these days, to the point where some people are able to practically run their entire lives and careers from a single mobile device. Spike Jonze’s “Her” takes this ever changing landscape and applies it to the next phase of our lives, relationships.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as a melancholy man who forms an intimate relationship with his new, artificially intelligent, operating system, voice by Scarlett Johansson. From the outside it seems like a commentary on people’s reliance on technology and how that can help and harm us, but when you watch the plot unfold you realize that “Her” is actually about personal evolution and acceptance, easily making it such an emotionally deep and touching film.
Spike Jonze has created quite possibly the most original love story in years. Though Jonze has only directed three films prior to “Her,” he is clearly a director who knows exactly what he wants to get across and how to do it in his own unique voice. And while it is the quirks and strangeness of Jonze’s world that initially draw people in, it’s his ability to use it as a backdrop for universally vital messages that makes him so successful.
Jonze uses the relationship between Phoenix and Johansson to not only show that the best relationship is where you can be yourself and not care what others think, but also that relationships are ever evolving things, just like people are. Samantha (Johansson) constantly makes points about how she is always evolving and how she is never the same person than she was a moment ago. The past influences us but it does not define us. Ultimately, we may not evolve as quickly or as easily as Samantha does, but the film teaches us to accept that, embrace the past but know we as people are not the same as we are yesterday, and that’s a good thing.
These big ideas are made easier thanks to the wonderful performances from Phoenix, Johansson and Amy Adams. Adams serves as a kind of medium for the film, helping Theodore out in key moments where he has doubts, but she is not one dimensional in that she has her own problems and arcs that make her a complete character, one that she portrays quite well.
Phoenix is fantastic as Theodore, and is the third actor this year who has had to do much of his work alone. Unlike Bullock or Redford, however, he is not simply alone, he is portraying a relationship between two people, it just so happens that the other is not physically there. It’s a truly intimate portrayal as Phoenix give us all the levels of a relationship, and while it is great to see him in moments of pure joy, when he has doubts about dating Samantha or is distraught with his own shortcomings is when he truly shines.
Speaking of Samantha, Johansson is a revelation. A completely different challenge from Phoenix, but no less difficult, Johansson must create a character we not only believe is in love with Theodore, but we can buy Theodore would fall in love with, and do all of it in voiceover. Plain and simple she pulls it off marvelously. There has been talk about how her performance should be considered for an Academy Award, and the argument has plenty to go off of as it truly is one of the best performances of the year. It’s time for voting bodies of the year-end awards to evolve like the characters in “Her” do and recognize voice and motion capture performances, at least in their own category if not in the normal acting ones.
“Her” is strange, but so is any story where love is involved. How different is it really for two people from warring families to be together with each other than it is for a man and a his operating system when the emotions are the same? The beauty of “Her” is that it embraces its unusualness and wears it like a badge of honor. Display it proudly, because a film like this does not come around very often.