For the cynics and skeptics of love, you may have once scoffed at the adage, “There’s someone for everyone.” Spike Jonze’s Her proves this once bathetic statement to be true. Because, in the not so distant future, you can be with your computer’s Operating System. Jonze’s last major film, 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are, could never have given audiences the indication that he would go in the thematic direction of Her, which follows the story of an emotionally stunted letter writer (#612, to be exact) named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, constantly distancing himself from that time he was pretending to be a rapper with every new film role).
Living in Los Angeles (the perfect city to evince disconnection no matter what era it’s supposed to be), Theodore works as a writer for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. Because the film is set in the near future, perhaps creating quaint-looking, heartfelt letters for other people is a lucrative business due to the sheer novelty of it. Theodore, modest and melancholy to a fault, is touched when the receptionist at his office, Paul (Chris Pratt), pays him a compliment regarding how moving his letters are. In fact, Paul is one of the few people he interacts with since his separation from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara, looking her most Natalie Portmanesque). Other than that, his sole comrade is an old college friend named Amy (Amy Adams, who is not nearly as hot in this as she is in American Hustle).
With such scant sources of in-person communication, it’s not surprising when Theodore uses his Operating System (the pre-Samantha [the voice of Scarlett Johansson] one) to find other people he can have, for lack of a better term, phone sex with. At first turned on by “SexyKitten” (the voice of Kristen Wiig), he is reminded why he can’t deal with women when she starts talking dirty about him strangling her with a dead cat. This, of course, is not the only awkwardly innovative sex scene in Her. There’s also about three minutes of blackness while Theodore and Samantha make noises of ecstasy together after they acknowledge they share a connection. Oh, and that time Samantha gets a "surrogate" named Isabelle to try to bone Theodore as she speaks through Isabelle's body.
After Theodore’s upgrade to Samantha, he starts to wash away the bad taste of unwanted blind dates (Olivia Wilde, playing a strange, throwaway character) and the feelings of moroseness he has as a result of his failed relationship with Catherine. Her vibrant, bubbly spirit bursts through even without a body to showcase it. And perhaps it was Jonze’s penchant for irony that prompted him to choose Johansson as the voice of the Operating System considering she has one of the most evocative bodies in Hollywood.
Even though the potential for having any real connection to Samantha is theoretically minimal, Theodore has never felt as close to anyone before as he does to her. And maybe because there’s no real risk involved—or so he thinks. But the more intimate they become, the more disarmed he is by their relationship, particularly when Catherine points out to him that it was always his dream to have a girlfriend without any of the real emotions that are involved. Theodore’s friend, Amy, by contrast, feels that, since we’re only here for such a brief period, we should do all we can to feel joy, even if that means having sex with an omnipresent voice.
Amy, also, is one of the most interesting characters in Her as we watch her marriage break down in just a few telling scenes. Although she was with her husband for eight years, she confesses to Theodore that she was tired of being made to feel like shit on a constant basis—and it was all set off by the trivial argument over her husband yelling at her to take off her shoes before she sat down on their couch. But such seemingly inconsequential requests were indicative of a larger need for her husband to control and change Amy. And it is this subplot that seems to act as a defined mark in the pro column for having a relationship with a non-person.
As Jonze’s first solo screenplay, Her is a testament to the fact that one can always reinvent the wheel of “the love story” genre. But Jonze isn’t simply highlighting the notion that human relationships are more complicated than any other. He’s also foretelling the nature of how humankind will interact with technology as time forges on and systems become more advanced. And, as creepy as that concept may be, it appears to be an inevitability. Though the very idea that a machine could throw as much emotional complexity into your life as the other people you already have to deal with is mildly ominous, one can only hope that Arcade Fire will likewise serve as the score to such a transition.