Love: “It’s a socially acceptable form of insanity” quips Amy (Amy Adams) friend and confident of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a man in the depths of an all-consuming love affair with his computer. Set in an undated future where retro fashion prevails, books are a rarity and computers are wooden Theodore encounters a new form of computer operating system: OS One. This is no ordinary OS update, this is an OS with a soul. While computers with personalities have never been far from the minds of sci-fi writers, with Eddy in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy basically having a nervous breakdown, Her looks deeper than the gimmick at an all together more disturbing possibility. What if man and computer could form a real and deep connection? What if they could fall in love?
With Scarlet Johansson voicing Theodore’s “girlfriend” Samantha, this sentient computer is all but human, she can learn and evolve according to her experiences and importantly she sounds throughly human. Sentient computers have always had a habit of appearing creepy or manipulative, Kevin Spacey’s GERTY in Moon is a great example of how dehumanising adding a human voice to an inanimate object can be. Her avoids this by focusing not on the computer but on the voice that Theodore hears and interacts with, by removing the computer screen almost entirely from their relationship it can at times feel like Theodore and Samantha are simply communicating over the phone.
Their relationship is real, watching them interact you forget the potentially disturbing side of the situation and watch as they create deeper and deeper connections. Spike Jonze creates the perfect world for this futuristic love story to unfold with in; with everyone plugged into earpieces, talking to themselves as they walk around, there is a brilliant lack of human interaction throughout the whole film. The human contact that does occur is brilliantly stark and varied, there is on the one hand the very frank and easy conversations between Theodore and Amy. While at the other end of the spectrum you have Theodore’s uneasy encounter with a “surrogate”. The woman Samantha hires to be her body for the evening creates such an uneasy presence that you are left feeling that Theodore’s relationship with his OS is far more meaningful and real than any human contact he could have.
The oddest thing about this look to the near future is society’s easy acceptance of this new technology. OS’s are quickly accepted as friends and lovers giving Her an opportunity to build its small story with out the need for conflict, Theodore and Samantha are not going against the man or society, they are not star-crossed lovers but real ‘people’ whose life we are able to see played out on the big screen.
Jonze’s nostalgic look at the future manages to be fantastically odd and completely heart wrenching at the same time. Theodore and Samantha are doomed from the start, and sheer will power on the part of the audience can do nothing to change that, but their story is so beautifully constructed and their world so perfectly familiar that you kind of want to live there for ever. While the plot, when bluntly laid out, may seem like the perfect science fiction fantasy in reality there is far more to it. Their world is not alien, it is recognisable as the place you live in now taken to the extreme; their relationship is all consuming and Her is an unforgiving look at the human experience with Spike Jonze harnessing his love of the weird and wonderful and channelling it into a moving and throughly human story.