“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my computer.” Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) in Her.
Her sounded so strange to me. A guy falls in love with his operating system? How would a romance like that even work? And how would it be portrayed on film? I’ve had my share of conversations with Siri, but I can assure you they never became romantic. (WHEW! Don’t you feel better now?)
In Her, set in the near future, intelligent operating systems are deeply entwined with everyday life. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a nerdy, gentle guy who’s currently separated from his wife (Rooney Mara.) While upgrading his operating system, he decides to take a chance on the latest technology that promises a more personal experience. He scrolls through the available OS voices, and as soon as he hears that unmistakable voice of Scarlett Johansson, he selects Her. Theodore is initially bemused by the intelligence displayed by the OS, but the witty banter puts him at ease. He asks her (even to viewers, this OS will quickly stop being an “it”), her name, and after a pause, she tells him, “Samantha.” Why? Because she likes the sound of it.
Samantha does all of the things we could expect from an OS: opening programs, sending email, and spell checking. But she takes it a few steps further. Samantha reads his emails and drafts his responses. She offers advice on his personal life. She counsels him and tries to cheer him up when he’s depressed. Samantha is smart, witty, compassionate, and flirtatious, and she quickly becomes the centerpiece of Theodore’s life. His earpiece with Samantha’s voice in it is always in place. He sticks his phone in his shirt pocket with the camera peeking out so that Samantha can “see” what he sees while he walks outside. She seems to delight in the opportunity to escape from the confines of technology. She even devises a way to connect with Thedore that is both ingenious and a wee bit creepy.
A relationship with a disembodied voice sounds like the ultimate no muss, no fuss situation, but as Samantha grows more intelligent, she and Theodore begin to experience the problems that any normal couple might face. There are jealousies and insecurities, but Samantha always knows how to say the right thing at the right moment. Is she learning how to feel, or are her reactions part of her programming? At times, it seems Samantha doesn’t even know.
Her is one of the best films I’ve seen recently. It’s so weird and quirky, and the initial squeamishness I felt when it became clear Theodore was falling for his OS was soon replaced by a hope that this odd couple could make their relationship work. And I believed in the relationship. (Which is more than I can say for many of the relationships portrayed in films.) With his nerdy glasses, high-waisted pants, and somewhat awkward demeanor, it might be easy to see how Theodore could fall for Samantha. But his warmth and kindness also show us how she could fall in love with him.