Spike Jonze’s first film since 2009’s “Where The Wild Things Are,” “Her” — set in the near future — follows lonely writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a “personal” love-letter writer at beautifulhandwittenletters.com.
Theodore, estranged from his wife and in the midst of a painful divorce, is left bereft, maintaining himself only in his work. Theodore walks and breathes as a living lament, a funeral dirge, waiting for some unknown salvation or catharsis to come his way.
One day, however, on his way to work, Theodore looks up to see a large electronic ad for something new: a supposedly artificially intelligent operating system. Perhaps seeing it as an escape, a curiosity, Theodore purchases a copy of this OS, who/which not long after gives her/itself the name Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Theodore is astonished at Samantha’s verisimilitude, her convincing humanness. This is so much the case that Theodore begins to fall in love with her, revelling in her bottomless curiosity with the world and what it means to be human, which Theodore proceeds to spend long nights explaining to her.
Phoenix, to this viewer’s pleasure often the only actor on screen, plays Theodore like it’s second nature. In shots where the only thing that can be seen is his soft face, filling the screen in its entirety, one observes every thought, every minute detail of expression that crosses Theodore’s mind as they individually play their way across Phoenix’s expressive face.
Johansson’s voice is that of a pixie, curious about the human world. Her voice wavers and hesitates, teeming with life in every “breath.” When Theodore and Samantha lie together, discussing the world in Theodore’s bed, it sounds as though the two sit cross-legged in the middle of a great forest, Theodore looking up at the trees, showing their beauty to Samantha through the lens of his camera phone, propped up gently by the safety pin midway down his shirt pocket.
Jonze trods among his characters judiciously, dressing, quite literally, each one in symbolism, and nodding toward deep meanings. His genuine and intentional writing and directing lend themselves to a film that is entirely engrossing, leading to thoughtful discussion long after it comes to it’s slow and meaningful end.
“Her” is a film for a generation of lonely people, a generation of individuals numbed and numbered by the electronic media that steal from them so much valuable time, and opportunities for human connection. But more than that, “Her” is a film about love, its many forms and complexities, and, most importantly, its eventual simplicities.