On the surface, the story of Her sounds a bit silly: a man falls in love with a highly advanced operating system. As it turns out, though, writer/director Spike Jonze (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has created a love story that’s incredibly relevant for today. We add personalities to technology more and more every year. Log on to Facebook, and one of the first things you’ll see is a box asking “What’s on your mind?” With the introduction of Siri and similar programs, we’re starting to communicate with our phones, not just use them as tools for communicating with others. Is it such a leap to imagine developing relationships with computers?
In Her, though, the story’s about more than that. As the film begins, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days writing for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. Twombly is a romantic at heart, which makes his letters resonate with his customers. Theodore is also depressed, since his wife (Rooney Mara) recently left him. One day, he stumbles across an ad for OS 1, the first operating system with artificial intelligence. After installing the OS and answering a few personality questions, OS 1 provides him with his own personalized A.I., dubbed Samantha (Scarlett Johannson). As Theodore and Samantha begin to know each other, they fall for each other, and their unique relationship transforms them both.
With a premise as different as this, it takes a talented cast to ground the film. Phoenix gives one of his best performances in years here. This is one of the warmest characters I’ve ever seen him play, and the joy the character exudes is a pleasant surprise. Johannson, though, is the most fascinating part. Her voice, which is naturally husky and occasionally cracks, makes Samantha feel more real and natural. At times, it’s easy to just listen to the conversations between Theodore and Samantha, and forget that only one of them is a person in the room.
Her does raise plenty of interesting philosophical questions as it goes on. Questions of the nature of existence come up with increasing frequency throughout the film. The questions aren’t new for science fiction, but when paired with the romantic nature of the film, they feel fresh. The film’s central message, though, is simple: learning to live through heartbreak and coming out better for it. It’s a message that should resonate with anyone who’s ever experienced a bad relationship, romantic or otherwise, and in Her, it’s told with warmth, humor, and not an ounce of cynicism.