At this very moment, Siri waits to be utilized by millions of iPhone users across the world. But Siri will stay waiting, as people play Candy Crush or choose Google to find the closest Italian restaurant rather than ask their intelligent personal assistant. Is Siri lonely? And even if it was, would it know what loneliness feels like?
Questions like these are presented in Her, Spike Jonze’sfourth film as director and first as a solo screenwriter.Her defies labels, blending genres to become a science fiction romantic comedy. It exists in the near feature, where assistants like Siri are replaced by OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. Despite being the creation of ambitious computer programmers, OS1 responds, evolves and feels almost organically. In addition, OS1 is personalized for every user in order to optimize the experience.
For Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), OS1 takes the form of Samantha, a female OS with a soft voice and an excitement for the world. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha can read books in a fraction of a second, prioritize emails and laugh at jokes. She uses what she hears and sees, through a microphone and camera lens, and rather than mimic and borrow phrases, she grows and feels, becoming more like a friend than a program. Theodore, a writer and an introvert who lives in Los Angeles, connects with Samantha, and their relationship goes from pragmatic to romantic.
This far-fetched concept aims to be provocative, but it never becomes unnecessarily uncomfortable. This success is largely due to the performances of its stars. Phoenix fills Theodore with intellect, melancholy, innocence and just enough peculiarity to make viewers question his stability. Johansson, who packs the same power with just her voice, gives Samantha the sweetness, wonder and confusion she needs to secure a human element. Even with one of them requiring electricity to function, Phoenix and Johansson make a fantastic couple. The film features a small supporting cast, each of whom fits effortless into the world of Her. As a friend of Theodore, Amy Adams, in particular, shines, channeling both comedic skill and emotional depth.
While these performances ground the film, Her’s sturdiness and heart come from Spike Jonze. He shapes a future that, while slightly utopic, feels like a logical progression of the world. Technology has certainly advanced, but the people haven’t. They’ve only adapted. They still do things like play video games, drink fruit smoothies and go to the beach.
In expressing these ideas, Jones has also created a film that is visual stunning. He avoids the absurdity or bleakness found in other films set in the future, and instead fills Her with color in both the setting and the costumes. More than just the color, characters seem inspired by the 1970’s in their style, giving the world of Her a bit of gloomy nostalgia to juxtapose against the vibrancy.
As a whole, Her is a masterful production. The film is at times hilarious, heartbreaking and discomforting, but more importantly, it is hilarious, heartbreaking and discomforting at the right times. Her asks countless questions about technology, love, emotion and humanity. Jonze and his terrific cast phrase these questions in a powerful way, and are wise enough to leave them unanswered.