Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.
Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”
All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.
Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.
As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.
The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.
In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.
Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.