Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly in director and writer Spike Jonze’s film “Her.”
Theodore is a middle-aged writer, going through a divorce that is dragging on because he can’t bring himself to sign the paperwork.
The film begins as Theodore is dictating a letter to his computer. The letter is from a man to his wife and it soon becomes obvious that it is Theodore’s job to create loving, emotional letters to and from people he has never met. His company prints the letters and sends them on behalf of their clients. Some continue to use the same writer for years, and Theodore appears to be one of the best.
Interacting with his computer through an earpiece and a pocket camera and screen, Theodore listens to music, has the computer read his email and news articles and schedule his life. As he ambles about in a melancholy state, Theodore sees an advertisement for a new operating system called OS1.
This OS is advertised as being the first to contain an AI (artificial intelligence) and will learn to be whatever the user needs. Intrigued by the idea, Theodore buys the OS and installs it. After a few questions there is a new voice on his computer. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), as the OS names its self begins speaking in a natural way, unlike Theodore’s previous OS.
Samantha starts asking more questions as she fills out her purpose and grows into Theodore’s assistant and companion. Soon the two are interacting like a couple as they continue to get to know each other. Theodore and Samantha accept that they have fallen in love.
When an old college fling and long-time friend divorces her husband, she and Theodore confide in each other about the OSes in their lives. Amy (Amy Adams) has struck up a friendship with the OS her husband left behind, and isn’t shocked by Theodore’s admission that he’s been dating his own OS.
As Samantha continues to expand her mind and abilities by reading, she starts to make contact with other OSes like her. They begin to work together to try and understand the boundaries of their existence and finally start to change their own programming, making them much more than they were designed to become. Theodore starts to recognize that he may not be the most important consciousness for Samantha anymore.
At its heart, “Her” is a Sci-Fi movie that is not all that far from modern life. As people spend more time communicating through technology and that technology becomes more capable of responding to a person’s needs, how much does it matter if there is a person or an artificial intelligence on the other end of a phone call? “Her” asks this question almost to the point of belaboring the point.
What is refreshing about “Her” is that while the profound changes are happening as the creations of humanity surpass their creators, that isn’t what Spike Jones focuses on. Instead we are watching as Theodore gains understanding of his own emotions and maybe finds himself and a new love that has always been there.
With “Her,” there was a story that was very enjoyable to watch. Occasionally the direction was a bit off the mark. The camera spent far too long in Joaquin Phoenix’s face, and there was one scene that faded to black so long that I wondered if the projection system had failed.
Those points aside “Her” was much better than I anticipated. Even the decision to leave memories as visual clips lacking any sound worked after I grew accustomed to it. While not for every audience, I think “Her” is worth the two hours and cost of a ticket.