|Joaquin Phoenix stars in Her|
I Love the Smell of Computers in the Morning
by Natalie Lylo (Contributing Editor)
“No strings attached” takes on a whirlwind of new meaning in Spike Jonze’s Her. This film conflates science fiction and romantic comedy to track the relationship of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)—star-crossed lovers of the future. Jonze delves into the touchy subject of technology taking over humanity; but he masterfully pats us on the back and lets us know everything will be okay.
Theodore is inescapably likable, thanks to the ever-brilliant Phoenix. We meet him behind his desk at the highly ironic company, BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. Dressed in an interestingly vintage button-down shirt and high-waisted wool pants, he gazes through thick-rimmed glasses as he dictates deep love letters for his customers. His computer then scrawls his words in varying penmanship: It's a hilariously paradoxical attempt to retain humanness in the age of machines.
Theo is like Cupid, without his psyche. He effortlessly signs letters for others; but he can't bring himself to sign his divorce papers from his ex, Catherine (Rooney Mara). He's utterly alone, humorously exaggerated through his request to his earpiece to “cue melancholy music.”
He wanders through a sleek Los Angeles, typified by impressive skyscrapers with expansive windows, and a long-overdue, improved subway system. Jonze cleverly does not explicitly date his film: It's clearly in the future, but it could be next month, next year…
We easily become immersed and invested within the life of isolated Theo. He has a self-proclaimed “hole in the heart.” Marriage fails, shown through a flashback montage. There are happy times, and then there's the fighting... the tears. Dates fail, amusingly revealed by his blind date (Olivia Wilde) who lets him know, “You’re a really creepy dude.” His friend and neighbor (Amy Adams) and her insufferable husband drive home this point—human relationships are often suffocatingly gray.
Immediately as Theo activates his OS and “meets” Samantha, his life and atmosphere takes a turn for the better. There's an instant spark—one stronger than most couples when they are side by side. Samantha’s resonating voice provides laughter, intrigue, and the comfort we all crave. She wakes him up. She puts him to sleep. She sorts his emails. She accompanies him on adventures. She's always there, at the push of a button. What more can you ask for?
This question both haunts and fuels the film. As floods of people parade the streets merely enveloped in conversation with their earpieces, and as office romances and sensual trysts are often between a person and an OS, Jonze provides a scarily realistic version of what society holds just around the corner.
Yet, these people are happy. The earpieces allow access into a positive Matrix, a realm of companionship and growth. It's not necessarily scary, but exciting. Technology breaks boundaries of how we live. Her pushes technology to also break boundaries of how we feel. Jonze uses a profound and timely subject to craft a surprisingly believable unconventional romance. Soon, there very well may be an app for that.