“If a computer can be a better person than people can, why shouldn’t people get romantically involved with them?”
By Matt Allen
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Director(s): Spike Jonze
Screenwriter(s): Spike Jonze
Running Time: 126 mins
Imagine for a moment that Siri could say more to you than “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that”. In fact, imagine that your iPhone butler was so advanced that it was able to process the millions of variables that essentially constitute human thought and that its “personality” is tailor made to satisfy your every need. Now imagine that it had the voice and charm of Scarlet Johansson. Now stop being filthy and pay attention because this is the basic premise that Spike Jonze explores in his latest quirky tale, Her. Charting an affair between said Operating System and lovelorn sad-sack Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), Jonze asks the question “can a man love a computer?” and more importantly, “is a computer capable of loving at all?”
In the not-so-distant future, Theodore Twombly enters into a controversial relationship…with his phone.
It’s an interesting notion: a computer programme that is so sophisticated it has successfully replicated the human mind. Jonze and the gang clearly have a lot of fun predicting the various scenarios and complications such a device might produce in human/computer relations. For instance, if an OS (operating system) is capable of love, is it not its own person and therefore no longer the property of its user? Is the love between a man and an OS as legitimate as a traditional human relationship? Can these two very different beings overcome the physical and mental constraints each are inherently burdened with and find a place in each other’s worlds?
Jonze himself claims that he did not set out to make a satire with Her, although it is difficult to imagine how it can be classed as anything less considering the subject matter and the current age of technophilia. As human interaction is becoming increasingly filtered through digital mediums, the prospect of engaging with a voice in a box is already a reality. Jonze immediately puts this into perspective with a bizarre voice cameo from Kristin Wiig on the other end of a singles chat-line that results in hypothetical strangulation using a cat. If a computer can be a better person than people can, why shouldn’t people get romantically involved with them?
Scarlet Johansson’s breathy, dulcet tones are spellbinding which does much to reinforce the relationship’s believability. But ScarJo was not first choice for the promiscuous PC, replacing Samantha Morton at the editing stage. However, Morton’s contribution must still exist in some form through Phoenix who masters the balance between emotionally unavailable and pitifully fragile.
The future earth of Her is a recognisable one. Hipsters are the dominant species. Ironic ‘tasches are aplenty and the current trend harks back to the roaring 20s (sort of). Even the tech has an elegance to it that brings to mind finely crafted cigarette cases and fine bone china. These delicate trinkets are contrasted against the more traditional sci-fi set pieces – lots of things that light up in various pastel colours – and makes for a blend of modernity and retro that is even familiar to us today.
A good concept and strong execution. Jonze does well to make the absurd disconcertingly believable and leaves off on a melancholy note that lingers long after the credits.