Jonze spikes our synpases with his iOS ‘Her’
5 out of 6 stars
Dir: Spike Jonze; US Drama/Romance, 2014, 126 mins;
Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson.
Premiered February 27
Her is a film set in an unspecified near-future, where Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has a job composing heartfelt ‘hand-written’ letters on behalf of others who cannot put down their own feelings in words.
The counterpoint to this is that Theodore’s own marriage is in its final throes, a divorce only unsigned and unsealed because of his failure to face up to the facts of the now irreparable relationship.
Theodore, with his introspective job and beleaguered dissatisfaction with the world and its complicated mess of imperfect humans, instead finds solace in the latest operating system: an artificial intelligence programme that names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).
At first she merely sets about organising his messy social calendar, but things quickly develop into a more emotional relationship.
If this all sounds a bit like the set-up to some slapstick dissection of a mid-life crisis, Her is actually far more nuanced, leading the viewer in a subtle but unpredictable exploration of what it means to have feelings in our technology-obsessed age.
At the start, Theodore’s relationship with Samantha has a doomed, forbidden air, but a clever development is how quickly within the film the notion of ‘dating’ one’s operating system becomes deemed socially acceptable – just as the attraction of Facebook, say, which moved from niche privacy-intrusion to having a billion plus users.
It is this that helps the film move away from being a cringe-fest about an awkward ‘odd couple,’ and towards its powerful insights on the nature of feelings and knowledge.
It doesn’t just ask questions about our relationship with technology, but about our brain and our thoughts, and consequently about love – “a form of socially acceptable insanity”, as Amy (Amy Adams), one of Theodore’s few friends, tells him.
But she could be talking about all sorts of behaviour in the film, such as Theodore’s walks through vast, dehumanising architectural landscapes, communicating hands-free with Samantha but talking ostensibly to himself, as is almost everyone who passes him, alone in the crowd together.
“Are these feelings even real or are they just programming?” asks Samantha at one point, talking of her own rapidly developing understanding of the world, but Theodore might well have said it about himself, such is his struggle to make sense of the minutiae of his own brain synapses.
“I don’t know what I want…ever,” he later complains to Samantha, who, whilst only ever being a voice in his ear, is played admirably by Johansson, exuding character in a way that belies her absence from the screen.
Her is blackly funny at times too, right down to the details: even the colour palette comes across as a pastiche of a sepia-soaked Instagram filters: all golden, ethereal and unsettlingly blemish-free.
As the AI of Samantha herself evolves, so too does the relationship, its gleaming perfection sullied by the passing of time.
A standout scene, where a third – real – girl is sought out by Samantha to play ‘her’ via proxy in a physical encounter with Theodore has a disconcerting outcome typical of the appeal of the film: mesmerising, thought-provoking and poignant.