Love knows no limits. Neither does your operating system
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Amy Adams Written and directed by Spike Jonze
It's that old chestnut again. In the future, technology has advanced, but we busy ourselves with meaningless things. We have "social" media, but we're more disconnected from each other than ever before. Before you turn away in disgust, this "futuristic" movie isn't filled with robots, space suits and shiny silver flying cars. In Spike Jonze's new film, Her, which he wrote and directed, he explores a world where technology and human interaction share the same space in the realm of relationships.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as protagonist Theodore, Her is set in an unknown future that may not be that far off from the world we live in right now. Theodore has broken up with his wife and now he's lonely, and at the start of the film, we see him engage in pretty trivial encounters for the chance of any sort of social interaction. Things change when he employs an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) to organise his life. First it's just administrative things, email checking, note taking etc. Although created by programmers, Samantha grows through her experiences in the same way a human can. Over time, Theodore and Samantha form a legitimate relationship, but can a relationship like this offer the same level of connection as one between two humans?
This is where Her gets really interesting. The film's world is filled with people who are so disconnected from each other – it's a lot like life now, with Twitter, Facebook and other "social" media outlets offering us a chance for superficial connections with others. But what happens when something seemingly superficial blossoms into something more, and not only that, it's with someone who isn't human? Are we able to have a meaningful relationship with an entity that essentially learns to be human?
It's Samantha's very human traits that intrigue Theodore, and us too. She has a life and lilt in her voice that you would expect from any outgoing person. Samantha is a likeable character - Siri she is not (the Siri of today, anyway). Samantha offers Theodore the comfort and social connection he craves. Theodore tells her, "Sometimes I think I've felt everything I think I'm ever gonna feel". It's heartbreaking that he is poruing his heart out to an operating system, but it's a feeling we all understand, when there are so many times in life when you evaluate your situation and think, "Is this all there is?"
Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore and Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha
The point in the film where Samantha begins to analyse her feelings makes her more of a developed human being than most. She starts to have needs and wants. For many of us, we sometimes find ourselves suppressing what we really want, and move along robotically day in and day out. Samantha begins to find that she doesn't want to operate, for lack of a better word, like that. Although an operating system, she's probably the most complex character in the whole film. The limitation of an operating system is that they don't have limitations – how does anyone form a bond with someone like that?
Her makes you think about the nature of relationships. Through Theodore, Phoenix shows us the loneliness and isolation many of us feel at various times in life. His Theodore is lost at first, then swept away with emotion, then guarded. It's every person in every relationship. Through Samantha, Johansson shows us the other side of a relationship – the growth you gain from being in one, despite the fact she is indeed an operation system. Amy Adams is also great as Theodore's friend, showing another side to friendship with an operating system.
This film was beautifully written by Spike Jonze – so imaginative and clever. He shows us a world we may not be living in (yet) but everything about it rings true. The themes here make me think, ironically, of what it must have been like to live in the days before email or telephone, when people were away from each other for long periods of time and could only communicate by letter. When the physical presence of your loved one isn't there, how do you have a relationship with them?
On the flipside, it also touches on the idea of mindfulness, and here I'm guessing anyone into yoga and meditation will be nodding their heads with glee. There's a beautiful scene where people are walking up the stairs but talking on their phones at the same time. Connected, but disconnected at the same time. It's like being out to dinner with a friend, only to have them check their Facebook newsfeed or email from their phone, they tell you it'll be brief, but you just want them THERE. It's the importance of physically being there that matters more.
This film has already generated interest prior to its Australian release, with a recent Buzzfeed article comparing Samantha to a more advanced version of Siri. There's also an excellent soundtrack from Arcade Fire that works well with the film's melancholy.
This is not a film that is supposed to leave you feeling hopeless, but it's also not going to reaffirm your faith in romance. What it will do is make you question what constitutes a real relationship, loneliness (even when you're in a relationship) and what it means to be physically available through all of this.