Her was, to me, one of Those Movies. The ones you read and hear about before you get the chance to actually watch it for yourself. I missed that chance in January at the Gothenburg International Film Festival, which irked me, but lucky for me – thanks to the cast and crew it showcases – it garnered an expected Swedish release and I got a second chance at savouring it in a movie theatre. (Movie theatres are the s**t.)
The plot of Her revolves around Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who is trying to move on after a heartbreaking, world-dissolving divorce. This is all very standard relationship drama, but hang on a few more lines because it does get better. Her is set in a not too distant future and Theodore makes the decision to invest in the hottest thing on the market – a new OS1 system that just so happens to be the first product to ever feature artificial intelligence. Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansen) may be nothing more than a voice in Theodore’s ear, but she is directly linked to his computer, which in turn, naturally, is directly linked to his mobile, which means that he can carry her with him everywhere. She becomes his personal assistant and constant companion. And more over – she swiftly becomes his friend. Told you – better.
Samantha has a great understanding of humour, she takes a nanosecond to learn and comprehend whatever subject matter Theodore may want to discuss and is constantly evolving by exploring humanity’s history, as well as our present day, by surfing the internet. Well, clearly this is a set-up demanding things to get shaken and stirred.
And those things are mostly Theodore och Samantha. They start a relationship to blow every border around what the word ”relationship” can possibly entail. The question I, the audience, is forced to ask myself is of course: What constitutes a relationship? What is love? Samantha doesn’t have a physical presence, but human beings throughout the ages have been infatuated by a photograph or through letter correspondence, and this attraction and the accompanying emotions have found a place to grow without the two people ever having physically met each other.
Theodore’s susceptibility for this type of attraction is nicely illustrated by his employ with a large, established company that specializes in letter writing. Theodore, by way of dictating the contents to a computer, creates beautiful”hand written” letters for his clients. They are letters filled with warmth, wit and an intelligent understanding of the customer’s relationships and needs. He communicates in an old fashioned and romanticized way for other people, he follows their day-to-day and is a part of their lives without ever taking any space in it for himself. In that way he is a reflection of what Samantha is to him when they first get to know one another where he has paid for a service and she is there to make his day-to-day flow more easily.
Aside from the fantastic script, which poses a row of philosophic questions while at the same time offering up just as many thought worthy comments; and the masterful acting and voicetalent on display – Amy Adams does a deliciously low-key turn as Theodore’s closest (human) friend Amy; one of my favourite things about Her is the clever way with which writer-director Spike Jonze approaches the future on this planet of ours, and more specifically Los Angeles, which is where we set our scene. He creates a realistic and well-thought-out vision of where we are most likely headed.
The Los Angels of Her does not boast flying cars (by God, where would we ever get a biofriendly fuel for those?) or insanely minimalistic interiors (perhaps not everyone is okay with living in a white/gray/beige oasis), but instead there are technical solutions and social details that feel true and relevant. After all, how we live today in this world we share, if we are completely honest, isn’t that different from the way we lived in it two centuries ago. At least not as far as tastes go when it comes to our more basic needs. Everything evolves and yet it all circles back to where it first began, right?
So instead of taking the science fiction aspect of his story and putting the weight on fiction, Jonze has smartly made the choice of focusing on science. He has looked at the technology available to us today and with a steady eye for detail drawn conclusions about what it may evolve into. He has also, in this same way, taken a good look at our modern social habits and woven into the core of his script an observation of how accepted it is to hold a conversation with your mobile during a coffee break, rather than with your colleague, friend or even, per chance, a complete stranger. The majority of us carry this small piece of technology around with us and it has become like a second heart: without it we sorely feel its absence. It is our link to the world around us, despite the obvious detail of how the world around us in actuality is right next to us or opposite us or a mere glance away from us.
Perhaps we are all related to Theodore in some way or other – a little bit afraid of the real thing. Of being hurt and left and rejected. Of letting reality get close and personal. But doesn’t that land us right back with the first question about relationships and love? Because what is it that dictates what is harmful or harmless? Is it even possible to live and know what it means to be alive if one is too afraid to take a chance and thereby risk something? And this thing called love – can it get more close and personal than a voice whispering sweet nothings or important somethings in your ear?