Spike Jonze’s latest film, Her, has a wonderfully odd premise: a man falls in love – properly, romantically, sexually, head over heels in love – with his computer operating system. With my usual dose of healthy skepticism I headed to the cinema to find out how this would work. But was it wonderful, or just odd?
Her is set in the near future in a Los Angeles where men wear high waisted trousers, telephones are in-ear devices and no one writes their own letters. We meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is going through a not-entirely-friendly divorce. Sensitive and melancholic by nature, he is slipping towards depression, avoiding both the situation and his friends. When he installs a new operating system for his computer OS 1 he finds his world opening up in a way he never imagined. His OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson) is intelligent and intuitive, with the ability to constantly learn and adapt – essentially to create her own personality. She helps Theo to deal with his divorce, say yes to adventures and even restarts his writing career. As Theo describes his situation: “Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m going to feel. And from here on out, I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” Incredibly, and to his huge suprise, Samantha is the one to change this.
What is striking about Her is just how surprisingly plausible it is. Theo works in a office space which favours the cubicle set up, he lives in a busy city with daily public transport commutes, his home is in a large apartment building. He is by no means isolated, indeed he has solid friendships with collegues and people who live in his building, yet he still feels a crushing loneliness. People are plugged into thier technology nearly 24/7 and this heightens the distance between strangers. The styling of the clothes and surroundings is all too familiar, setting the action in the future but the very near future, our generation’s future. This is sci-fi, but in this world the ‘robots’ won’t go on a rampage, they won’t kill anyone, there won’t be a revolution. They’ll quietly enter your life and they’ll break your heart. Anyone who has felt the dread, anger and simultaneous sorrow at losing their iPhone already knows how possible this is.
I really enjoyed Her, more than I thought I would. So to my original question, yes it’s odd but that’s wonderful. I definitely urge you to give this film a chance.
And to all the OS developers of the future, please don’t use the insanely sexy, husky voice of Scarlett Johannson for your operating systems, you’re just asking for trouble.