"Anyone that has ever felt compassion for another human being will be able to relate to Theodore and completely understand the character's reasoning"
Aah Valentine's Day. A great time for a trip to the cinema with your other half. And what could be more perfect than Her, a surprisingly believable human-computer romantic comedy from Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are). The always intriguing writer-director returns with possibly his best film to date, a richly rewarding story which attempts to rip apart our puny human notions of "love" and "affection" and explore the limits of our ability to be attracted to one another. The perfect date movie right? Joaquin Phoenix leads a very strong cast, backed up by Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and the voice of Scarlett Johansson.
Her is set in a highly polished near-future Los Angeles, an absurd world in which people spend far too much time with their computers and hire specialist letter writers to compose their personal letters. Whether this is because these future citizens are emotionally incompetent or simply too busy isn't really explained, nevertheless it is Theodore Twombly's (Phoenix) job to write these love letters for other people. A slightly awkward introvert, Theodore is struggling to come to terms with his impending divorce from Catherine (Mara) and, in search of a little retail therapy, upgrades his computer's operating system which comes with an eerily lifelike, Siri-style artificial intelligence voice called Samantha (Johansson). Theodore is initially distrustful of Samantha's seemingly organic nature but quickly builds a friendship that threatens to push into strange, unexplored territory.
The great success of Her is that, as silly as all of this seems, Jonze has created a setup that feels effortlessly natural. Anyone that has ever felt compassion for another human being will be able to relate to Theodore and completely understand the character's reasoning, as ridiculous as it sounds on paper. Theodore and Samantha's relationship is a doomed one, we know they can never be together but as an audience we get swept up in the heat of the moment, just as Theodore himself does.
That the story works is a testament to the world in which it is set. Jonze's future L.A. is beautiful, a lush city with a dark underside. Its citizens appear content in their semi-utopian society but behind the sheen they seem disillusioned and emotionally detached. This is summed up perfectly by Theodore's neighbour and friend Amy (Adams) who, it transpires, is also having a relationship with her OS, along with thousands of others. Phoenix's strong lead performance is also a contributing factor to the film's believability, he perfectly portrays the giddy early stages of a relationship.
Going right back to H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke, the best works of science-fiction have always been a comment on the human condition and social aspects of the present day. Spike Jonze continues in this rich tradition and has made a film that is an exciting, magical, and potentially terrifying warning of things to come. A future that is simultaneously ludicrous and believable, thrilling and devastating, but utterly charming. In a current age where people around the world are oppressed because of who they fall in love with, Her is a fantastic study of humankind's innate search for companionship, and how it can come from the oddest of places. Happy Valentine's Day.