April 28, 2020
The concept of Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2014) has surfaced in today’s world as believable and not that futuristically far-fetched. The story is one of love, but not what you’d expect. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) isn’t anyone special from what we can see; he’s a good writer, smart and sometimes funny, but he’s also lonely, antisocial and even creepy at times. So, the perfect partner for him is, naturally, an artificially intelligent virtual assistant: Samantha.
Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is only a voice and a computer system, hiding away in Theodore’s phone, camera, earpiece or computer. She is a new technology out on the market that everyone cannot resist—think Siri, but a million times more advanced. She is so advanced that Theodore, lonely as he is, cannot help falling in love with her. And it seems to be true the other way around.
The story doesn’t stop at romance, though; artificial intelligence has always brought its own questions to the table, specifically concerning its ethics despite its range of possibilities. The film navigates these questions gracefully, in one moment praising the concept of high, non-human intelligence and, in another, (re-) introducing the inevitable downsides to singularity. There are always hints of mistrust, or rather the unfortunate act of putting too much trust into someone—something—that will turn their back on you for their own goals.
What’s more is that “Her” and the heartbreak that comes along with it do not play on the same emotions as any other romance to date. Jonze’s concept poses the question of hopelessness rather than hope, but also necessity rather than desire. The desire is there between Samantha and Theodore, but necessity wins. And the fact of science fiction and artificial intelligence make for an even wilder romantic-drama than we’re accustomed to seeing on the big screen.
Jonze’s creation reaches near perfection: The storyline is airtight, albeit a little strange, and the world he has designed is on the almost-invisible edge of reality and science fiction. In 126 minutes, we see a science fiction telling of our own future neatly packaged as a near-future, not-so-different world than ours, finished with a bow of romance on top.
What we think of as science fiction is completely flipped in “Her,” because we’re so used to looking for a total escape from our own realities in worlds with alien creatures or parallel universes; but, really, we only need to look a little further to find what is basically the futuristic equivalent to a historical fiction.
Crowned with Phoenix, Johansson and Amy Adams’ acting, “Her” is a wonderland of authenticity. Samantha’s voice is just enough to express emotion, no need for a face. And Theodore’s loneliness is always present, even in his happiest moments, which is simply a testament to the award-winning actor’s ability.
Though slow and dry and less-than-exciting on the eyes, “Her” doesn’t do what’s expected of other movies in its genre. Jonze drives the story with a drab yet realistic wheel, which will only bring you further into the world he’s fashioned out of our own fears and ideas as a technology-driven society.
It may be hard to watch because of its lack of excitement, but the point remains. The point isn’t to watch a heart-wrenching drama or blood-pumping sci-fi; the point is to get sucked into our own inevitable future, face to face with our own lack of fantasy. The point is to walk away, hopefully, entranced by the beauty of the movie’s pastel color palette, or Samantha and Theodore’s calming duet from their weekend trip, and then to go home and reflect on what could very well happen in our own lifetimes.