Her (2013)

Review first published by Film4.

Synopsis: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are) writes and directs this melancholic romance set in the near future.

Review: Spike Jonze’s Her opens with its moustachioed main character Theodore Twombly (the ever-astonishing Joaquin Phoenix) reading – in voice-over – a letter that he is composing at work. The missive is almost embarrassingly personal in its details – and yet Theodore’s connection to its nominal author and addressee, a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, is strictly professional. For in the not too distant future, when there is little time for intimacy, Theodore writes other people’s letters for a living – and he is good at it too, bringing enough depth of feeling to his counterfeit epistles that even casual readers are deeply moved by them.

All this is only tangentially related to the main plot of Her, in which Theodore, still recovering from marital break-up, enters a new relationship with his artificially (and emotionally) intelligent operating system ‘Samantha’ (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) – but nonetheless it lays down all the subroutines that the film will then follow. For as Theodore and Samantha tentatively fall in love, experiment sexually and discover the world anew together, until eventually Samantha, no longer the beta-stage ingénue, starts seeing other people and other operating systems, we are ourselves carried away by all the romantic tropes familiar from both cinema and life, even as Jonze makes it crystal clear that these very real feelings we experience are just a product of our own programming.

Her is a self-conscious yet effective conjuring trick about human need that, like one of Theodore’s letters, prompts genuine joy and sorrow without making any secret of its own artifice. The results – all at once pure fiction and bittersweet truth – are fey, melancholic and beautiful, as Jonze stages the philosophical tenets of functionalism in the space between the screen’s moving stimuli and our own responsive minds.

In A Nutshell: Like Marco Ferreri’s I Love You (1986) or Craig Gillespie’s Lars And The Real Girl (2007) played out amidst the technological singularity, Jonze’s strange SF-lite romance brims with love actual and intelligence artificial. Log on now.

Anton Bitel