In our busy lives it’s very possible we spend more quality time with machines, our ever-present technology, than with our loved ones.
We certainly spend more intimate time with our earbuds than with our significant others, ask Siri questions all day and lovingly stroke our keyboards as if they were the silky-smooth hands of our intendeds.
So the premise of “Her,” a new (slightly) futuristic romance from director Spike Jonez about a man who falls in love with the operating system of his computer, doesn’t feel that far fetched. Or does it?
Set in the near future “Her” begins with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), an unhappy, soon-to-be-divorced writer, buying a new computer with an advanced operating system designed to meet his every need. It sorts e-mail, keeps track of his appointments and helps him navigate through the in formation age.
It also speaks with a raspy, flirty voice that sounds suspiciously like Scarlett Johansson. Named Samantha, she helps organize his life but soon their back-and-forth takes on a tone more in line with old school 976 phone calls than high tech banter.
“I’m becoming much more than they programmed,” she says, as a romantic relationship blooms and Theodore falls in love with OS-amantha. “She’s not just a computer,” he says, “she’s her own person.”
Their connection might be unconventional, but the film’s approach to the subject isn’t. It’s a romantic movie that explores the essence of relationships. The gimmick is the idea of marrying technology to romance, but the core is a primal love story.
Phoenix’s delicate performance embodies the way that technology both isolates and bonds us all. He’s a melancholy presence, alienated from friends and co-workers, but longing for a connection with someone or something. In this quiet, intimate performance he makes us believe in and accept the story’s eccentric premise.
As good as Phoenix is, and he’s very good, the performance that will stay with you is Johansson’s vocal work. We never see her, but her raspy, expressive voice is a near constant presence, and she creates a character with words, not actions.
“Her” is an oddball story, but it’s not an oddball film. It is ripe with real human emotion and commentary on a generation’s reliance on technology at the cost of social interaction.