Whether it’s the result of a weird little door in a dwarfed office block, a case of authorial envy, big shaggy monsters or a disarmingly chipper AI, there’s a distinct yearning for affirmation - even completion - running through all of Spike Jonze’s oeuvre, varied as it is. Her might have initially raised laughs at its “Siri goes a’smoochin’” premise, but there’s much, much more going on in this not-quite-sci-fi story of the relationship between a man and his OS. Carrying its soul on its sleeve, Her polishes up many of the thematic concerns of Jonze’s most recent projects, offering something as heartfelt as it is slick.
Still racked from the breakdown of his marriage, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days writing handwritten letters of love and friendship for those who struggle to reveal themselves fully. Theodore has retreated from the world into videogames and his work, though maintains a close friendship with game designer Amy (Amy Adams). Enticed by the latest upgrade to his PC and Smart Ear Phone, Theodore soon finds himself in the company of a complex, adaptive OS called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), who quickly fits into Theodore’s life and becomes his confidant.
What could easily have been Lars and the Real Girl for the digitally connected generation circumvents any awkwardness by making clear just how permissive Theodore’s society is toward this budding dynamic between humans and AI. It comes to show the possibility for new points of connection (and frustration) rather than tell, at once exploring this novel concept whilst also presenting the very real lifespan of an intense relationship between two people. If Jonze’s short I’m Here used technology as a metaphor for the process of giving oneself to another, here, the possibilities of the future creates, at times, an uncomfortable frisson between the roles of the creator and the creation that firmly captures the initial excitement and wish fulfillment of any relationship. As Samantha evolves however, so too does the relationship - for better and for worse.
It helps, of course, that Jonze has ensured his film is impeccably dressed (and its stars too - there’s a reason Twombly’s minimalist chinos are available to buy), offering an optimistic take on the coming 21st century that Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography joyfully soaks up. Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet’s soundtrack, meanwhile, whilst perhaps overrated after all of the Oscar hype, nevertheless builds up to match the film’s unabashed, climactic moments.
We’re only a month into 2014, and it’s already looking like a year of cinema to be thankful for, but of all the sterling releases so far, it’s Her that has stayed with me the longest after viewing - I’m still finding new threads in the nuances of its script. With so many films looking back to the past, it’s refreshing to see one that’s actually hopeful for the future - particularly when so much cinema at the moment feels like one giant funeral for the 20th century.