Movie poster for Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams
The idea for the story behind Her feels like it might be ahead of its time, but in some ways it’s also been a long time coming. From the mind and talent of writer and director Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix plays an introverted, somewhat socially awkward, divorcee who strikes up a relationship with an artificially intelligent computer operating system.
And it’s one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve ever watched.
Like that awkward first date between two people who are obviously out of each other’s league, or watching a (for lack of a better characterizing term) late 20’s computer geek on his very first date, Her is at times painful.
Such discomfort is a compliment to Phoenix, who captures his character well. A man who isn’t over his ex-wife (Rooney Mara), is content playing video games at home after work and is completely in tune with his emotions, no matter how cheesy they may be expressed. But he still feels a desire to experience romance with a special someone – a romance that doesn’t even have to be physical.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Theodore attempts to get back into the dating world as his friend Amy (Amy Adams) sets him up with a blind date (Olivia Wilde). When it doesn’t end well, Theodore confides in his OS Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
The idea of dating a computer is very strange, and it’s that thought process that makes the concept of Her so strange and fascinating, even though we become voyeurs into the mind and life of a man and his deepest desires. Yet, in an era where wearing pants almost up to your chest is fashionable, and nearly everyone speaks into a computer instead of each other, dating a computer OS is on the verge of acceptable – much the same as we see exclusively dating someone online is. People either judge or they accept it. With that approach, Her feels more like standard, albeit alternative romance.
But the film provides some deep insight that a regular romance movie might not be capable of venturing into. Theodore tells Samantha that somedays he’s afraid he’s felt everything he’s ever going to feel – never to feel anything new again – an almost numbing realization that extends beyond the screen. It also causes us to rethink the concept of what “love” is and, if we were given the chance, could we and would we allow ourselves to fall for a computer.
Her may be foreshadowing for our own society’s future, or it may be a commentary on the present, where computers play a critical role in our lives and our own relationships have become diminished – or upgraded – to communicating with or through computers. The concept sounds absurd but it’s really not that far-fetched with the right perspective and ultimately, it places a focus on what anyone is willing to do for a relationship. If we’re willing to make friends over the internet with people we’ll never meet in person, does it matter to us if that person is even real?
Regardless of who the love interest is, Her strikes a chord that carries emotions from loneliness and desperation to something bigger and brighter that Joaquin Phoenix displays so gently that feels so real we can’t help but feel joy and happiness for him.