Cinema has always been fascinated with predicting the future. Hovercrafts and time travel are just a few of the frequent images we see in sci-fi films. In Spike Jonze's latest film "Her", futuristic technology is also at the forefront but it addresses conventional concerns that have been around since the dawn of man. As technology advances, the biggest societal change will be how we interact with each other. This theme is the thrust behind the plot of this uniquely original film.
If you're familiar with the Bible, you know that according to its teachings the first woman came into being due to the loneliness of the original man, Adam. Despite having everything he could possibly want, he longed for a companion. Such is the case with our protagonist Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely man of the future who's life feels unfulfilled after a divorce. He has a reliable friend in the form of longtime fling Amy (a terrific Amy Adams) but it's not enough. In need of someone to endure the lonely nights and uneventful days, he signs up for a new product that can communicate like a human being. This operating system is called Samantha and she turns out to be every bit the engaging conversationalist he could have hoped for.
You can probably guess where the plot goes from there, i.e. they fall in love. Over the course of the film, Theodore is reinvigorated, finding happiness once more. It's fascinating to watch, as his joy seems so genuine despite its "artificial" source. Admittedly, I found some of the serious relationship drama to be unintentionally funny. Yet Spike Jonze's script is always sincere. As you get to know the ever-evolving personality of Samantha, she becomes every bit as real as your traditional cinematic love interest. The only thing missing is a physical human form, a factor that is beautifully addressed in the film.
Much of the suspension of disbelief in this relationship is due to the expressive voice work by Scarlett Johansson. She's an essential component of the film, giving a textured, nuanced performance that compliments the thoughtful screenplay. Joaquin Phoenix is surprisingly charming in his role but Johansson is the film's MVP in the acting department.
Overall though, the best aspects of the film are undoubtedly Spike Jonze's directorial vision and astute script. He's able to purvey a mood that feels so delicate and pensive it makes you sit back and ponder the many themes and ideas explored in the film. Furthermore, the film benefits from Arcade Fire's soothing soundtrack and warmly lit cinematography.
This all amounts to a film that is constantly sweet and lovely. It often felt a bit too "soft" in the way it presents its characters (there's a certain lack of palpable pain) but to disregard it on that basis would be to miss out on one of the smartest screenplays of the year. Even when the idea of a relationship with a computer seems strange, the world that gives rise to this technology feels so much like our own. Heck, people engage in "Catfish" romances every day with persons who effectively aren't real. Even outside of romance, our current technology can be so individualized that the technology depicted here seems entirely plausible.
As I said in the introduction however, the film's sci-fi concept only lays the foundation for a story that is universal and timeless. The development of Theodore and Sam's relationship is no different from the experiences that most couples go through. Their journey is one of tremendous insight and I look forward to experiencing it again. Spike Jonze has created one of the most graceful and thought-provoking romance films I have ever seen.
Spike Jonze's films usually attract some amount of Oscar attention, but I think this may be his first shot at Best Picture. It's such a memorable film that it's sure to have many champions within the Academy. I'm also very confident in the film's chances in Best Original Screenplay. Less certain but also possible is a nod for Best Director. It's a very competitive field, but he's surely in the mix. Finally, there could be a history-making nomination if Scarlett Johansson manages to land a nod for Best Supporting Actress. I remain skeptical but she's good enough that we may be in for a surprise come Oscar morning.