In review: Her
Spike Jonze’s Her is a masterpiece. I know it’s incredibly hard to start a review that way because now I feel I have to convince you but, trust me, once you see this film you will need no convincing. The film is set in a not-so-distant-future Los Angeles and stars a cavalcade of excellent actors, most prominently Joaquin Phoenix as the charming, damaged protagonist, Theodore.
We are introduced to Theo as a letter-writer. In this semi-futuristic world, people are paid to write beautiful handwritten letters to other people’s loved ones in lieu of writing letters themselves. It is just one of the many aspects of the film that director Spike Jonze carefully inserts into the time period to portray the slight differences in society.
The major difference, and incidentally the catalyst of the movie, is the introduction of the “OS1,” artificially intelligent operating systems designed to be virtual companions. An earpiece is inserted and a small camera phone is used to communicate with the system. The programs are designed to learn and grow as they experience more of the world through their owners. Theo does not hesitate to download this virtual friend as he is recently divorced from his equally artistic, equally damaged wife Catherine (portrayed subtly and masterfully by Rooney Mara).
From the first moments of her conception, Samantha, Theo’s personal OS companion, is intriguing. She seems to know just how to talk to Theo and quickly gets him out of his funk and into the world. Samantha is perfectly voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The difference between Johansson’s voice work and the usual work of voice actors is that Samantha has no body. We cannot see or even imagine what she might look like—but Johansson wonderfully brings this character to life. We feel every imaginary kiss on the cheek and touch of the arm that Theo imagines just through her vocalization of the character Samantha.
The movie is a masterpiece partly due to Spike Jonze’s incredible screenplay and partly because of Joaquin Phoenix’s careful and subtle portrayal of Theo. It would have been easy to create a character so depressing that the audience is drawn out of the film, but Phoenix—unlike many characters in previous roles—is tender, loving and just depressed enough to be relatable. The script works well and integrates real world issues happening at the time of this alternate future.
Amy Adams, who plays a similar character to Theo, is excellent as Theo’s friend and neighbour. Her journey parallels Theo’s in ways that aren’t seen until looking back upon the film. The movie is one that rolls around in the back of your head for days after viewing. It has views on love that haven’t been seen since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
With all masterpieces there will be critics, and certainly Her is not for everyone. However, if viewed as a love story instead of a science fiction movie the world opens up and we get a glimpse and how lonely, lovely and hurtful love can be. It’s a movie that is unlike anything I’ve seen before and, like all great masterpieces, will be unrivaled for a long time.