Speak and it shall be done: the world of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ is changed, with technology making communication almost hands free, voices and simple gestures navigating through with ease. Yet ‘Her’ still holds onto humanity at its core. It has a simple futuristic appeal, Los Angeles going cleaner, more hip, and a little retro, but the soul of it is natural and the need for companionship is even more real because it’s easier to escape it.
Pushing through, writing (but really dictating) touching letters for customers without the words while pained by his pending divorce from his long-time love Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) installs a new operating system to his all connected computer lifestyle, and he is introduced to Samantha (voice by Scarlett Johansson). She’s built to learn and grows to Theodore’s imaginative and sympathetic ways until the two are no longer partners in maintaining his daily life, but lovers on a virtual stage that feels as real as the heart and flesh. Theodore enters romance in a way that opens up his eyes to the world more, despite how narrow we can assume technology to make things. But Samantha questions the beauty of existence and simple pleasures come to light.
Samantha has a certain randomness that brings out a boyish spirit and reasoning in Theodore that had been swallowed by lost love, some of the film’s best qualities. Though she doesn’t exist physically, she brings some adventure out of Theodore, whether it be jumping through a carnival or walking on a beach and being brought to wonder about the humor in the human body. But after the excitement has its turn, complications begin as jealousy brews and Samantha advances when exploring with the other OS’s and their very fast cyber playing field. When the film builds to terms that she’s only human in the mind and moves at a different intangible pace, Theodore must realize what his life really is and how he must live it. Often turning to his good friend Amy (Amy Adams) going through many similar emotional trials with love and having an OS friend herself that ties them, the characters of this film, even Samantha, ultimately require that relatable connectedness, either amongst our world or beyond and what more basic technological programming and gaming just can’t provide.
Jonze makes a world of uber-advanced computer systems seem friendly. The atmosphere of Los Angeles is more spacious and quiet as Theodore strolls through, tending to his thoughts or talking to Samantha. It lacks the bustle that we’re used to in our high paced world we normally attribute to advancing technology. But the pace has calmed and the lives in ‘Her’ still deal with the same problems of breakups, love found or lost, loneliness, profession, and with the same needs and wants. Technology is just better adapted to and it’s almost more appealing. Karen O and Ezra Koenig’s very light and smooth ‘Moon Song,’ covered by Scarlett Johansson mid-film, puts the film at peace, even in the gentle sadness as the distance between Theodore and Samantha grows.
On a performance note, ‘Her’ delivers characters that we can attach ourselves to. Amy Adams gives a kind-hearted and honest portrayal of someone who had what she thought she wanted, and turns to make the best of new freedoms after the wallowing wanes with some credit to Theodore’s support. Joaquin Phoenix pulls out another altogether new persona and wins us over with Theodore’s genuine good nature, coy smiles, and quiet undertones. Not without his flaws, still a man with raw instincts, but he ultimately cares about all things. Resorting to phone sex and having a blind date with bare intentions, Samantha pulls him from a lower point. Picking out a dress for his goddaughter’s birthday on Samantha’s opinion is only a small start. Mara, mostly seen through Theodore’s memories, plays well on the natural decline of Catherine and Theodore marriage, coming off as the one moved on and matured. And Scarlett Johansson gives Samantha a sexy, kind, and inquisitive tone that sets beautifully to Theodore’s poetic ways. The film also stars Chris Pratt as wonderful and nerdy co-worker Paul and Olivia Wilde as a very forward blind date of Theodore’s.
From glowing natural lighting to the details of these new computer elements to characters each lending their own charms, Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ gives grace to an advanced world still full of human compassion. People need people, even if that someone exists in a cyber world sharing sentiments that bond you. The ability to share, communicate, and keep people close isn’t necessarily made easier through technology and will never go away, present or future, this plane or the next.