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‘Her:’ In Spike Of Everything

Spike Jonze’s Her is at once timely and timeless. Yes, it’s an ultra-relevant tale of the perils of our technological future and the increasing “earbudization” of social life, but it’s also, mostly, a supremely human story of loneliness and longing. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a man who looks like his name, a mustachioed, bespectacled, sensitive type whose day job is to write Beautiful Handwritten Letters (.com) to and from strangers who are in meaningful, fulfilling relationships. Theodore spends the rest of his time wandering the city alone or playing video games in his apartment or calling in to an anonymous phone sex service. Once he drags himself out on a blind date, but it gets weird, and then it is promptly over. He has a friend in Amy Adams, who plays a married, sad college friend of Theodore’s named Amy and has the signature Spike Jonze lady haircut: a tousled mess of crazy blond curls.

Her happens in a not-too-distant future where everything is a little more sleek, a little more clean, a little more convenient, just enough to be unsettling. Cell phones are thin and hideable and come with a tiny wireless earpiece, evidence of the absorption of technology into our very being. And so it is made to seem like not such a huge deal when Theodore purchases a new OSI, an operating system that is installed on your computer and is designed to streamline your life, which it does through an evolving, artificial intelligence that very much mimics that of human consciousness. The OS gives herself the name Samantha, and in addition to going through Theodore’s digital life, she gives herself the chance to grow and evolve by reading books (at a speed of a book each two hundredths of a second), and learning “human” by interacting with and getting to know him. It doesn’t hurt that she happens to have the voice of Scarlett Johansson.

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Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationship develops into a committed, albeit experimental one. People are just beginning to admit that they’re dating their OS’s, and seeing as OS’s don’t have bodies, it can make things a little difficult. In a slight way, this parallels the social conversation and stigma that has gone along with online dating. Having a bodiless operating system as a girlfriend is obviously a bit more extreme than meeting another person through a website, but the societal reluctance to admit that technology has had a hand in bringing you together with your significant other is real. And Theodore, for a good while, sides with the skeptics, finding it strange that he feels so connected with a disembodied voice, let alone one whose personality and humanness is constantly developing based on his own life experiences and questions about the world.

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What’s so impressive about Her is that it takes a framework essentially about the oddness of man-robot love and plunges it into the human heart; it’s steeped in true, deep loneliness. Theodore is mourning the death of his marriage to Catherine (an appropriately pointy Rooney Mara) when he starts to get to know Samantha. Because Samantha is an OS, the emotional exploring the two of them do together is almost like a guide book to human passion and suffering. Theodore teaches Samantha to hurt. It’s beautiful and it backfires, of course, very much in the same way that human relationships evolve and change over time. But there’s something more elemental and scary about this one because the territory of OS’s is new, and the technology is ominous on some level, but it’s also heart wrenching because Samantha is like a child realizing for the first time the pains as well as the joys that come with being human.

Her is complicated and also simple. It’s human and real and also science fiction. It’s laugh out loud funny and also silently sad. It’s successful on all of these levels separately, and so it is impressive that it all fits together in a beautiful, seamless package. My regard for this film is as high as the waist of Theodore Twombly’s pants (really, really high).

Grade: A

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