Spike Jonze' makes his debut as a screenwriter in his new film Her, the first he has directed since 2009's Where the Wild Things Are. Her offers a plausible, thought-provoking vision of what our increasingly technology driven culture may look like in the near future, anchored by an intensely felt romance between a recently divorced, heartbroken man and an artificial intelligence. In this sense, Her qualifies as science fiction, but the futuristic setting is secondary to the emotion. At its core, Her is a love story about how and why we love and what happens in the moments in between when we're still figuring it all out.
In the case of Theodore Twombly, wonderfully played by Joaquin Phoenix, figuring it out means finding a way to move on from a devastating break-up. A year after his wife leaves him, and still refusing to sign divorce papers, Theodore works in an office where he writes moving, heartfelt letters for people who want to send letters to loved ones but do not possess his unique way with words. His ability to speak into his computer and watch as the words appear instantly on the screen is one of many small details included in the film that help us to and believe and feel immersed in this futuristic world. For example, Theodore comes home from work depressed and mouths "melancholy song" into what looks like thin air. But then all of a sudden, "Off You" by The Breeders, a suitably melancholy choice, starts playing, instantly triggered by his request. Her is filled with moments like this that emphasize the relationship between humans and machines and how machines have completely adapted to our everyday emotional needs.
It's all surprisingly believable. The film's central plot point is the relationship between Theodore and Samantha, a first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence brought to life by the voice of Scarlett Johansson. Their romance works because their relationship evolves in much the same way a real relationship would. Samantha and Theodore's love grows as they learn from one another; she discovers the complexities of human connection while he rediscovers his capacity to love and to be loved.
Of course, there is always the nagging suspicion that Samantha is nothing more than a series of complex algorithms, therefore their relationship cannot be real in the same way that a relationship between two humans can. This is addressed by the film and handled with care. There are no clear-cut answers, though the ending of the film, best left unspoiled, provides a subtle insight into the filmmaker's intentions. This is one of those films whose ending will leave you contemplating what it all means for days after you have left the theater.
Ultimately, Her provides no easy answers, but it does raise a number of important questions about the nature of love. It is uncompromisingly honest in its depiction of the messiness of love; the pain and sorrow that accompany the joy. It embraces it all, tackling the subjects of intimacy and love with a sensitivity that only someone who has ever felt such emotions could have conjured. Audiences will recognize this and appreciate this compassionate, thoughtful and unflinchingly honest film for the powerful feelings it evokes. The film is incredibly moving at times, and hilarious at others. It's gorgeously shot and scored, and the performances are sublime. Much like love, it's an emotional roller coaster not for the feint of heart, but in the end, Her is well worth the journey.
by Anthony Verone '17