Critically acclaimed for its writing, direction, and production design, ‘Her’ is a movie that you really should make the time to see.
A lot of sci-fi films are just normal films set in the future. Gunfights become laser fights, cars become spaceships and explosions, well, look the same. Other films go deeper and show us technology’s potential to affect our personal and emotional lives. ‘Her‘ is one of those films. And it’s certainly not much of a stretch to imagine the world of today evolving into the 2025 of the film. People walk around mumbling orders at their phones. Gaming offers lonely people a chance to talk to foulmouthed aliens. And professional card writers use people’s information to write personalised messages to their loved ones.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a card writer. He’s great at channelling his emotions into his work, but when it comes to his own personal life, he’s blocked. Lonely and going through a divorce, he decides to splash out on an AI operating system that can speak, learn and even feel. He and “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) hit it off almost immediately. The rest of the film charts the ups and downs of their relationship, as Theodore confides in, laughs with, and eventually falls for his new friend. The result is essentially an AI Annie Hall. There’s even a nod to Woody Allen’s masterpiece in the scene where Theodore entertains Samantha by analysing strangers (ingeniously, she is able to “see” through his webcam).
And just as in ‘Annie Hall‘, the performances make the film. Joaquin’s Theodore is that rarest of beasts, a troubled lead with a personality. He is decent, likeable and funny, and most importantly, he’s not above having a good time. A lot of the best scenes in the movie simply show the couple having a good time together. Scarlett, meanwhile, turns in the best performance I’ve seen from her so far. Using only her voice, she conveys playfulness, sarcasm, wonder, anger, sadness and yes, sexiness. I almost fell in love with her myself.
The writing is also top-notch. ‘Her‘ is full of original, funny dialogue, and it contains several fascinating plot twists. At the beginning of the couple’s relationship the main issue is Samantha’s lack of a body, but in the second half of the movie some other unexpected and interesting problems emerge. At the end you’re left with some unsettling questions about the future of humanity itself.
For all that, though, the film’s main focus is an emotional one. This is the both its biggest weakness and its greatest strength. On the one hand nearly every conversation in the movie is about how people are feeling, how they’re growing, “no, how are you really doing?” After a while it can start to feel like you’re eavesdropping on a two hour therapy session. But ultimately the combination of likeable characters and believable situations is too potent to resist. The ending is so well judged that you’ll likely be left with some pretty complicated emotions of your own. And you can’t ask more from a movie than that.
Lead image – Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix © Warner Bros.