By Don Simpson | December 20, 2013
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Lynn Adrianna, Lisa Renee Pitts, Gabe Gomez, Chris Pratt, Artt Butler, May Lindstrom, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Brian Johnson, Matt Letscher
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is just an average guy living in an extraordinary world in the presumably not-so-distant and not-quite-dystopian future. His wardrobe and overall sense of style suggest a kindred connection with cinematic characters of the 1940s and 1950s, back when post-WWII American families were hopelessly daydreaming of living in futuristic homes. Back then, personal computers were a mere fantasy — real computers certainly were not portable and they definitely could not talk. The difference between mid-century futuristic cinema and the universe of writer-director Spike Jonze’s Her is that Theodore’s world and 2013 exist in fairly close proximity to each other; we seem to be on the cusp of experiencing many of the technological “advances” that are presented by Jonze. (For example: as Theodore verbally communicates commands to his computer, it is difficult not to think of Apple’s Siri.) It is not until Theodore upgrades to OS1, the first artificially intelligent computer operating system assessable — and, presumably, affordable enough — to the general public, that the film truly breaks from our modern reality.
Wallowing in a self-secluded and somewhat deluded state of depression after separating with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore reveals a strong affinity for communicating through the veil of technology. Rarely separating himself from his computer’s wireless earbud, Theodore shuts himself off from the humans that surround him. A fairly literal interpretation of what is happening to our modern society, Her showcases the de-evolution of human interaction, the breaking down of our social interaction because of our ever-increasing connectivity with technology. A third of our lives might be spent sleeping, but during the remaining hours of our days we seem to always be connected with technology, leaving very little to no time for face-to-face interaction between humans. Most our entertainment — books, films, television, music, games — is consumed via our computers; we are even more likely to meet potential dates online. Up until upgrading to OS1, technology never judged Theodore; instead, technology enabled Theodore to develop his own reality under the premise that “the past is just a story that we tell ourselves.” Theodore’s reality has essentially become as false as the love letters he so eloquently scribes for paying clients. He may seem like a sensitive lost puppy dog, but Theodore perceives himself as a fierce dragon.
Her takes this love for technology one step farther, allowing Theodore to develop a relationship with his new operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Just as Theodore composes letters for his clients to skillfully deceive the recipients, programmers have written Samantha’s basic logic to trick people like Theodore. Building upon her basic programming, Samantha is presumably able to learn by accumulating data from various experiences; her unlimited access to Theodore’s computer files and Internet browsing history seems to allow Samantha to sculpt herself into Theodore’s ideal mate. As Samantha matures intellectually and emotionally, there are startling similarities to how human beings create their own consciousness, evolving from learned experiences, building upon the initial DNA with which we were born. Theodore’s consciousness seems shallow, superficial and false, and — well — not all that different from Samantha’s synthetic existence.
As Her pontificates about the inherent disconnectivity of modern communication, it becomes apparent just how synthetic human emotions and feelings have become. Because of “advancements” in technology and communication, the definition of real relationships is constantly morphing, as is the significance of physical intimacy in those relationships. Most humans seem to need support, love, happiness, understanding and acceptance; but how much of that can be synthesized. Jonze posits that these new forms of interaction and connection may still be able to bring out emotional authenticity and allow humans to their true selves…or maybe not?