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Review: Spike Jonze's 'Her' tackles the complexity of artificial intelligence



Love is complicated.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) waits for his new operating system, soon to be "Samantha", in Spike Jonze's film "Her."
Warner Bros., Spike Jonze

Love is real.

Those two statements are often regarded as fact. However, while love is undoubtedly complicated it is quite difficult to explain what exactly constitutes love being "real".

Is love real because it's something we can acknowledge feeling without a doubt? Perhaps love is "real" because we can share it with another person and that interaction establishes the feelings inside us as something real.

The idea of what makes love "real" brings us to Spike Jonze's film "Her." Written and directed by Jonze himself, "Her" follows the life of Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, in "near-future" Los Angeles.

A writer for a hand-written letter company, Theodore lives a melancholy life where he lives through the emotions of others with his work as he deals with his own failed marriage to the hyper-emotional Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Love and dating post-marriage scares and intimidates Theodore as evident by his non-existent social life outside of his friendship with video game designer/filmmaker Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher).

Theodore's life gets a much needed jump start however when he chooses to purchase the first ever artificially intelligent operating system (OS) for his computer called OS1.

After initializing the new operating system, Theodore is welcomed by a pleasant and sincere sounding female voice. When asked what her name is, the voice replies "Samantha." After only a few minutes, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and Theodore establish a connection that one would only expect to be possible between two humans. A connection that feels sincere, open, "real" and soon leads to love.

This love between Theodore and Samantha drives both the story of "Her" as well as the plethora of questions the film presents about that love, artificial intelligence (AI), friendships, and the needs of both humans and fascinatingly enough...the needs of AI beings like Samantha and her fellow operating systems in the world.

Shot with a vibrant glow and crispness that allows the screen to breathe and burn, "Her" does not answer the questions it presents for you. Instead, the brilliantly layered screenplay seems to almost present each question at times when you are likely considering that very question in your mind. Could Theodore and Samantha's love be real? Does their love feature the same characteristics that our human relationships feature? Can Theodore possibly get the same emotional (and physical fulfillment) from Samantha as he could from a human partner. These are just a few of the thought provoking questions Spike Jonze's masterpiece evokes.

Yes, the word "masterpiece" is often abused these days including by this very writer. However, a film this gorgeous, fascinating and consuming without a doubt deserves the title of masterpiece.

"Her" becomes so consuming you find yourself cheering, crying and feeling for Theodore as if you are as close a friend with him as the aforementioned Amy. Even more eye opening is the fact that you can easily find yourself feeling the same way for Samantha as if she was a person and not an advanced operating system that may find its way into our very homes in the next few years.

In regard to Amy, she is as wonderfully written and important of a secondary character in film as any in the last 10 years if not my entire lifetime. Amy Adams gives the best performance of her already storied career (in a supporting role no less) and establishes her character as someone who you can't help but feel for despite Phoenix dominating the film's screen time by himself.

In fact, I'd love for a sequel of this film to be made (perhaps with the title of "Him") that would cover the same period of time from Amy's point of view and document her experiences with her own (secondhand) OS1 not unlike Ender's Shadow of the Ender's Game series. One can only hope. Please Spike Jonze...please?

Needless to say, Spike Jonze's "Her" is not only the best film of the 2013 film year but it's one of the five best films of my lifetime. A modern and relatable love story, "Her" is surely to be discussed for years and hopefully decades to come...perhaps in a post artificially intelligent OS world.

"Her" opens in theaters across Austin on Friday, January 10. For more information including theaters and showtimes, click here.

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