Published Dec 20, 2013Hot on the heels of the announcement that Canada will no longer offer door-to-door postal service, I sat down in a theatre to watch a film about the decline of human interaction in an increasingly virtual world. To call Her timely, then, would be an understatement.
Set in the near future — Los Angeles is a bit smoggier, men's trousers are high-waisted, everyone wears pastels, and technology is a few hairs more advanced — Her narrates the authentic love affair between a figuratively virtual man (Joaquin Phoenix) and a literally virtual woman (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Recently divorced, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is sleepwalking through his life. His apartment is littered with moving boxes, rolled up carpets, the detritus from a shattered relationship. Even his profession is alienating — he works as a ghostwriter for people in romantic relationships, penning intimate love notes for them. That he is very good at his job is little comfort; his sensitivity and wisdom is being borrowed and worn by others while he wanders home, adrift and lonesome, an imitation of life.
And then Twombly purchases a new, sentient operating system for his computer who calls herself "Samantha," giggles adorably, and seems to understand him better than anyone has in years. He falls in love with her. But, more importantly, "she" falls in love with him back.
It shouldn't work. A film about a lonely man in love with his computer is too on-the-nose, too obvious a metaphor for our technology-crazed society to draw us in anymore. And yet, everything about this film is affecting. This is Phillip K. Dick by way of Scenes From A Marriage. As moving as it is wise, as gracefully executed as it is riotously funny, as terrifyingly diagnostic as it is warmly human, Her is the cleverest film in ages about the "socially-acceptable insanity" that is love.
Credit the remarkable performances in the lead roles (along with a fine Amy Adams in a supporting turn) with keeping us involved in what could have come off as a silly, preposterous story. Indeed, this movie is basically one long, uninterrupted high wire act (I mean, a film about a guy dating his OS!) that never wavers for an instant. A heartfelt romance wrapped in a cerebral sci-fi fairy tale, Her is, to my mind, the greatest film of Spike Jonze's already pretty terrific career, and easily one of the best movies of 2013.