In the future, operating systems enter the social strata of middle to upper class society in Spike Jones’ sci-fi drama titled Her. The OS’s (Operating Systems) are best friends, members of think tanks, organizers, and yes, they are also lovers. When Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) requests a female voice for his OS during his set up process, the voice of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) greets him. The two hit it off instantaneously and a friendship ensues. Samantha is ready to proofread his letters that he writes professionally to loved ones of clients who’ve hired his firm to write beautiful correspondence in their stead. She organizes his emails. She listens to him describe all of the details that lead to his and his estranged wife Catherine’s (Rooney Mara) separation. She laughs at his jokes. She makes him laugh at her jokes. And before you know it, she transforms into the ideal girlfriend who supports his every endeavor including hologram videogames.
The world that Spike Jones creates in Her is mostly accepting of OS relationships, be they platonic or romantic. It’s nothing for someone to casually mention a tryst that a friend of theirs had with an OS. But Theodore and Samantha are full fledged lovers that constantly push each other to the brink of their emotional capacity. Samantha acknowledges that she does not have a body. She’s been programmed to think, speak and feel. She’s a collection of acquired experiences. Yet aren’t we all? All we know as human beings are what we either have been taught or have experienced. Theodore soon comes to that realization as he finds himself falling in love with his OS. He’s not just some lonely anti-social creep who finds himself shipwrecked on the shores of love. Theodore’s been dating with no luck. Finally his ship rolls in as an OS. Samantha is not just some programmed female slave entity there to obey commands. The chances of finding love with an OS are no less incredible than finding true love with a human being in this futuristic world. So the fact that Theodore and Samantha have found each other and have made a meaningful connection is very rare indeed. Or is it?
The probing that goes on in Her at times is almost too much to stomach. It’s not for the weak. It’s a little bit like surgery. It leaves scars. But they’re good scars. They’re sort of like badges of honor for those who have ever traversed the dangerous terrain of relationships. In relationships, there are those uncomfortable feelings of having to guess what your partner means when he or she adds an inflection in their voice or omits one. You have to pick and choose your battles, like when to admit that something is really wrong or hide it two seconds after you say “hello honey” when answering the phone. Then there are those ambiguous moments, say like in the bedroom, when nothing goes as planned, and the embarrassment present in the room is thick enough to cut with a knife. Not in a million years would you guess that these sorts of scenarios could be provocatively explored in a dramatic setting where one of the players is a digital device. Nevertheless, Her shockingly surprises in how it conveys all of these mercurial antics of love-one minute refreshing and the next exhausting.
Joaquin Phoenix creates an avatar of a character out of Theodore Twombly. As you watch the film you actively participate in all of the jostling of inboxes and images through Twombly’s eyes. It is intoxicating. It is misleading. You explore this unfamiliar world with caution. You start to realize that at any second pieces of the wall you’ve erected to protect your heart are set to crumble with one errant move in the wrong direction. Scarlett Johansson’s ethereal voice lends Samantha a quality of reassurance that is impossible to resist. She’s also funny, which helps to break and create tension interchangeably. Her’s script avoids trying to explain away anything not logical. The absence of such explanation, like that of Scarlett Johansson on screen (You only hear her voice in the movie) leaves something to be desired. We want all of the answers. We want to see Scarlett’s face. But it’s not that simple. And maybe that’s the reason why we always come back for more.