By Peter Towe

Published on Tuesday, January 7, 2014


In the new sci-fi tale Her, Spike Jonze introduces us to his vision of the near future where artificial and human intelligence interact and form relationships and the lines between the two are forever blurred.  Her, written and directed by Jonze, looks at the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence and is set in the not too distant future where society and technology are based off what we already have today, which makes for a very believable interpretation of the future.  Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, who having recently gone through a divorce from his wife Catherine (Roony Mara) is going through the motions of life and seems to get no pleasure anywhere in his world.  His job is to write letters for other people who have trouble expressing their own emotions to give to their loved ones.  Feeling alone, Theodore purchases a new operating system for his computer called the OS One.  This new OS is the first of its kind, and is developed to evolve and grow over time just like a human.  Theodore decides to give his OS a female identity, and the OS gives herself the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).  Samantha talks Theodore into going on a blind date that his friend Amy (Amy Adams) sets up, and while the date seems to be going well at the end right before they are about to go home together the date, played by Olivia Wilde, asks if Theodore is willing to commit to her.  Theodore of course stumbles on the answer and the date leaves, after saying a couple hurtful things.  After this failed blind date, Theodore, who is really searching for someone to love him begins to fall in love with Samantha, who also is beginning to fall for Theodore.  Samantha has a thirst for life and knowledge and this excites Theodore, who loves the way she looks at the world.  Samantha begins to change Theodore, and Theodore is helping Samantha change even more.  Her envisions a future where humans and OS’s interact as one, with the underlying question of whether or not we need actual human contact for relationships or if artificial intelligence romances are enough to keep us satisfied, while losing the little things that make us human.


While set in the future, Her hits close to where our society is currently shifting in terms with our relationships with technology.  One of Theodore’s only hobbies is video games, which are very interactive and not too far off from where we are today.  Theodore interacts with the characters in the game through speech and movement, and some of the few times early in the film we actually see Theodore smile and genuinely look happy, and again its another form of satisfaction from technology as opposed to human contact.  Theodore seems the most alone when he is surrounded by people.  Whether at work or on his way to work, Theodore seems to have no human friends except Amy, who lives in his building and who he had once dated briefly in college.  In a city filled with millions of people he can’t seem to connect with another human, and the one person he once had is on the verge of being gone forever if he would only sign his divorce papers.  This feeling is felt by millions of people today, as they turn to social media and other technologies to fill in the loneliness in their hearts and to try to connect to someone, or anyone who will love them.  These current technologies, and the new OS in Her may help fill some of the loneliness we all experience on a day to day basis, but can it ever truly replace human to human contact?

Theodore, who is a talented writer, works in a cubicle like many of us do today writing letters for other people.  This commentary on the dying art of letter writing, which has already hit our society is spot on and very funny.  With technology today, many people my age (25) and younger have given up letter writing all together, in favor of a quick email, call, or text which they believe accomplishes the same same thing.  Talking to my grandparents, I know what receiving a letter can do for someone to raise their spirits.  Taking time out of your day to hand write a letter and mail it is incredibly more intimate and personal rather than just emailing or texting them.  A letter shows more thought and preparation, and used to be an important part of interpersonal communication but in our society and especially in Her this isn’t the case, where the act of writing a love letter is passed on to someone to do for you.  In Spike Jonze’s future, letter writing is another casualty of technology, as the conciseness shifts from people to machines.


The color palettes used in Her are visually very stimulating.  Everything on the outside from the exterior of the buildings landscape to the bland minimalist interiors of the future are very grey and beige, while people wear bright color shirts, and everything from the paper to the blinds are bright realms of colors.  Showing that may make it seem like there’s not much going on looking just at the surface, but when you go inside there is more than you originally thought.  This goes with the evolving technology in that at first the OS is bland and like the rest, but the more time you spend with “it”, the more unique it becomes and you can see the different colors.  Her is a film that will have many different interpretations, and will be equally good on repeat viewings.  Spike Jonze has constructed a tightly filmed love story set in the not to distant future, with the question of whether or not technology can fill in the holes left in the heart from past failed relationships.

Joaquin Phoenix played the lonely Theodore to perfection, with the possibility of being the frontrunner in the Oscar competition.  Phoenix can display the full spectrum of emotions simply with his facial expressions.  This role required him to interact with his OS Samantha for a good chunk of the film, so he had to do a good job not being able to bounce his performance off another actor but also had to show his emotions by body language and sometimes minimal dialogue.  Even though you only hear her voice, Scarlett Johansson plays off Phoenix very well and does an excellent job in giving Samantha life, making her feel more human than most of the people Theodore saw every day.  Besides technology and his friend Amy, Theodore’s only really other friend is Paul (Chris Pratt), who did a great job with some of the funnier moments of the film.  Everybody from Phoenix to his ex-wife Catherine, played as a small role excellently by Rooney Mara, did their jobs well and were perfectly cast in the film.

The fourth feature film by Spike Jonze may be his best overall.  Being John Malkovich showed Jonze had his own style.  Adaptation showed that he can get stellar performances from his actors, as Nic Cage was nominated for an Oscar, while Where the Wild Things Are showed that Jonze could handle a big-budget film.  Her however combines all these elements from his previous films to make what is his most complete film and it shows his evolution as a feature film director.  Her has all the quirky elements that Jonze is known for, while getting some incredible performances as well.  Her offers a unique glimpse into what Spike Jonze believes is the future based on the current trends of society.  Her is sure to be on top-ten movie lists of the year and it deserves all the recognition it gets.  Phoenix and Jonze is a match we’ve all been waiting for, and the result speaks for itself.  We are working on developing artificial intelligence, and as Her becomes more and more plausible, it will be interesting to see how it effects interpersonal communication of the future.  You may never look at Siri the same way ever again.

Spike Jonze’s new film Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Pratt opened as a limited engagement December 18, 2013 with a wide release January 10, 2014

The Good

+ Spike Jonze's near future was believable, and an interesting vision of the future

+ Joaquin Phoenix was excellent as usual

+ Has a lot to say about todays interpersonal communication

The Bad

- Would have liked to explore a little more of the future Los Angeles


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