HER is a film that is both entirely formulaic and completely original.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a soulful, depressed introverted 30-something who works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com in a city some time in the very near distant future.
By day he writes personal letters between parents and children, lovers, and others who don’t have the time or poetic skill to communicate with those closest to them.
Theodore is nursing a broken heart and a divorce impeded by his unwillingness to sign the paperwork.
At night, he plays his 3D video games; a world that is holographed impressively into his apartment lounge room. After trialling a new computer operating system with ‘intuitive’ capability, Theodore soon finds himself falling in love with Samantha, the intimate, intelligent, supportive voice of the new OS (spoken by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha helps him clean his in-tray and boost his confidence – the perfect woman.
What follows is a typical love story. There’s the cautiousness at first, the flirtation and coyness, the union, the honeymoon period, the misunderstanding, the jealousy and a somewhat predictable denouement.
Belief in the absurdity of the relationship can be suspended for the ride because the voice of Samantha is so sexy and the dialogue is far better than the average rom-com.
The Art Direction is also great – with effective matt painting of sets that create a city like a laid back New York with elements of Shinjuku.
Theodore learns that his best friend (Amy Adams), with whom he regularly falls out of contact, is also in love with her operating system (Alex). Soon, we notice that everyone on the street seems to be talking lovingly not only with but to their phones.
It reminds me of something I once heard, “People use their PCs. But people love their Macs.” I don’t think anyone can fail to consider this incited by Apple’s cult brand.
HER holds a mirror to what we have now – people disengaged with people. The love affair is with the technology that binds us together. It’s a strong but tenuous adhesive. It allows insomniacs to have phone sex with strangers and be complicit in auto-asphyxiation ritual using a dead cat’s tail. Real human contact is undesirable and unnecessary.
People are routinely enamoured with their machines and as machines make quantum leaps in capability, this tale could be cautionary. Even Telstra now advertises a new phone every year so you can enjoy the hedonic ‘new phone feeling.’
The cars, the computer games, and the voice-activating ear buds all add fun and depth to a simple story. It’s a compelling film. It is a stretch of credibility, but only a small one.
I’m off to see if the domain beautifulhandwrittenletters.com is available. I’m positive the market already exists.
HER was written and directed by Spike Jonze. It also stars Amy Adams and Scarlet Johansson as the voice of Samantha.