Artificial intelligence, love and humanity. This is what lies at the center of Her. In a futuristic LA lives Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a seemingly ordinary employee of a company that writes heartfelt, handwritten cards to others’ loved ones – a job that he would be reluctant to admit that he is quite skilled at. Left with a hole in his life after his separation with his wife, it’s clear that he is internally withdrawn, completely befuddled when he is posed with the question ‘Are you social or anti-social?’
This soon changes as Theodore acquires ‘OS1’, an operating system with artificial intelligence – her chosen name: Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Immediately, we are presented with Samantha’s distinct personality and she wastes no time in helping Theodore deal with his confused life. The plot evolves from here but to avoid spoilers I won’t divulge much more except that this film is totally and utterly their story and no matter how precognitive you think you may be when it comes to romance dramas, I can guarantee you won’t be able to predict how it plays out.
Samantha revolutionises his life and drives us into one of the most superbly presented films to come out in recent times. Its mixture of colour choice and music is exquisite. It alternates between warm yellows and reds, to stunningly clear palette colours that mix with a musical score from Arcade Fire to create an endearing, warm and innocent atmosphere that permeates the senses and creates an ideal backdrop for a quirky and unconventional love story.
The smooth finishing of each set as well as new-wave vintage costuming puts the audience into a feeling of futuristic realism, instead of dystopian or hyperbolic development of human society and technology, the LA of the future is an entirely believable environment.
And interestingly, this works into Spike Jonze’s effort throughout the film to mould it into looking like an advert for a phone. The travelling scenes, the scenes of crowds, the shots of Theodore’s device that holds Samantha; they all have such colour, clarity, and brightness that it feels like a Samsung or Nokia advert.
Perhaps the two greatest achievements of this film though were the interactions between Phoenix and Johansson. The lack of physical presence of Johansson leaves Jonze’s focus entirely on Phoenix through an extensive employment of close-ups. And yet, he manages to adapt perfectly, small facial cues perfectly portraying Theodore’s range of emotion. Johansson is particularly skilled also, having to entirely embed her emotional reactions in speech. Wit, sadness, confusion, existential crisis: Johansson manages to do it all.
But this film does not merely rely on these things, the raw emotional circumstances and tear-jerking moments inject real drama and pain into the film, sentiment that we sometimes see neglected in the Sci-Fi genre.
Her is a wonderful viewing experience, from start to finish you are completely involved in Samantha and Theodore’s dynamic interaction and relationship, never once approached with the thought of it being ludicrous or unlikely. And it’s at this point the film poses us with a question; with such a realistic, emotionally evocative and well-executed portrayal of a future where love with an artificial personality is possible, how far away are we from this film’s events moving from science fiction to scientific fact?