The idea of humans falling in love with machines is not a new one in cinema, it’s a common trope of the sci-fi genre, but if anything the last few years have led to it hitting closer and closer to home. Advances in technology like the Iphone suggest a future where, while our computers may not get to think for themselves, they may well be able to trick you into believing they can.
Her is the latest feature film from Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and stars Joaquin Phoenix in the central role. He plays Theodore Twombly (surely one of the most ridiculous names in cinema) a man who has recently split up from his wife and is currently struggling over bringing himself to sign the divorce papers. Meanwhile he works at a company that produces beautiful handwritten letters for people who can’t express their emotions themselves, and revels in the role of doing so, despite his own inability to do exactly that. In an attempt to help organise his life he purchases a new operating system which comes in the form of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and falls madly in love with it.
It’s a simple premise with the only real difference from your standard rom-com being that Samantha is an operating system and doesn’t have a basic human body. However, that is a big enough difference from the standard formula to turn this film on it’s head. Suddenly the question isn’t whether they are right for each other, but whether this is the actions of a desperate man who is unable to deal with real emotion or just the simple pure act of falling in love. Phoenix is unsurprisingly fantastic, in a role that is very different from his usual intense characters, and while the world calls for DiCaprio to be awarded an Oscar you have to wonder if he is not more deserving. He perfectly portrays the fragile Theodore who gets caught up in this emotional ride which he is really not strong enough to deal with.
Elsewhere Johansson’s voice makes a great stake for being one of the sexiest in the world with her portrayal of Samantha. The fact that she actually came in post-production to replace Samantha Morton, who had originally provided the voice, is never an issue, as her and Phoenix’s dialogue works well together despite that issue. While Amy Adams continues her fantastic recent form as the best friend, who plays a major part in helping us warm to Theodore, as we hear about the person he used to be before his wife left him. Finally Rooney Mara, as Theodore’s ex wife Catherine, provides the voice of sanity in the movie, being the only one to question the insanity of entering an emotional relationship with a computer.
Her is a touching, intelligent and overall emotional telling of a story we’ve heard before. The performances carry it throughout and it’s intelligent enough to not just fall into being a message about humanity’s reliance on machines, but to also question the very nature of love and what constitutes it. While it is definitely the Oscar nomination that can be pretty roundly dismissed from having any chance of actually winning, it is certainly nice to see the Academy honour a movie that is as intelligent and heart warming as this one.