Spike Jonze’s Her is the profoundly simple, often heartbreaking, comedy-drama exploring a man’s troubled love life.
Her takes place in the not-too-distant future, where artificial intelligence is becoming the norm and human connection is diminishing. (There’s even a great shot in a crowded subway, where everyone is spaced out to their respective electronic devices.) Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a man going through a divorce who purchases a new Operating System with artificial intelligence capabilities, and develops a relationship with “her.”
What follows is a fascinating look at how we project our romantic ideals onto others, as the OS (who names herself Samantha) forms herself to become the woman Theodore wants, or thinks he wants. As their relationship, and later romance, develops, we go through the typical and, in my opinion lazy, love story arcs of the honeymoon phase, boredom, and jealousy, but always with this unique narrative element of love between man and machine.
We get a terrific performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who essentially carries the entire film; he is utterly convincing in his delivery and emotional reactions to what becomes a very real relationship to him. One of the more memorable scenes follows a blind date with a “real” woman, and he drunkenly confesses to Samantha that he’s scared his life is all downhill; his feelings now are all dimmer versions of how he’d feel before.
The film’s ending is similarly powerful, with Theodore recognizing the danger of projecting a romantic ideal onto anyone, and the inherent growth every individual experiences over time. Every experience, every connection we make is what shapes us into who we are today. I honestly found myself tearing up along with Theodore, at this poignant, insightful reflection on love lost.
What impresses me most of all is that this is fundamentally not a film about technology, but relationships. The artificial intelligence motif is a narrative device, but not the point of the movie. While Her does run a little long and is bogged down by some predictable plot points, this film’s fascinating underlying themes and profound messages are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, somehow at once.